Youth Sports and Autism

I have really struggled with this post. I have so many thoughts and emotions on this topic, and not sure how to organize it, so please bear with me.

I wanted my twin 5-year-old boys to try a youth sport this year, so I signed them up for soccer. I volunteered to coach because I wanted my son Wyatt, who has Autism, to be taught by someone who understands Autism and how they need to be coached. Plus, I used to play soccer so I thought it would be an awesome experience for all.

We had our first soccer practice and I was so pleased to see a few other boys who were in Wyatt’s class at school and who also had Autism. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to spend time with these awesome kids and to try and give them a positive experience. Most of the kids spend hours in therapy and school, so getting them on a team, having fun, was my goal.

After the first game was over, it was clear that our boys with Autism, found it difficult to play in this kind of environment. All three of them were on the field, super excited, and really wanting to play the game but anxiety of getting hit with the ball, screaming parents, and coaches encouraging voices seemed very overwhelming. Yet, they continued to play and had a blast. They didn’t care about people staring at them, or other boys making rude comments, or parent’s being more concerned with winning, but I did.

I heard, “what is wrong with that boy?” and “why is he making such loud noises?” I heard “why are you talking like a baby?” and “look, he can’t even talk.” I will be honest, the last one was about Wyatt and took a lot of strength not to break down and cry on the field; just held on until we were home. It was about my son Wyatt, who sometimes when he is over stimulated and overwhelmed he has a hard time finding his words. It broke me. Kids were making fun of my son when I was standing right there. I kept asking myself, “where did these children learn to be so mean?”

I then heard rumblings about it not being fair that we were losing so many games and some other unfortunate comments by parents, who were more concerned about winning then FIVE year old’s learning soccer and having fun. It then became very clear that these kids learned from their parent’s.

I started to observe the parents and I was watching grown men yell at their kids to, Pay attention! Stop messing around!!! I heard a coach yell, “We are the #1 team, so let’s act like it!” Let’s remind ourselves that these children are FIVE. I saw a parent cause his son to cry because he was yelling at him.

These parents were putting pressure on their children to win at age FIVE. No wonder we live in a world of competition and judgement. I saw parents who were more interested in their child winning, then appreciating children with special needs and giving them the ability to be part of a team. I see parents who tell their kids not to text while driving, as them mom is texting while driving. I see parents tell their kids to not drink and drive, yet they drive home after a few drinks after dinner. I see parents hosting a tailgate at a high school football game and then act surprised when 79 children get kicked out of school for drinking at that football game.

Listen, I am not perfect. Not even close. But, I teach my kids empathy and compassion. I teach them that everyone is different and unique and being different is cool. I teach my kids that winning isn’t everything, and if you lose a soccer game, it means there is more to work on and we must work hard to succeed. I also teach my kids, that children can be mean and if someone is mean to you, then you don’t need them to be a friend.

Do I just need to lower my expectations? Do I just need to come to grips with reality that my son will not play well in a team environment? Maybe. I do wish that people would be more tolerant with people with Special needs and appreciate their differences. Most importantly I wish that parents would take these type of opportunities to help educate their children on kids with Special needs.

 

 

Explaining Autism

Explaining Autism can be difficult because every person with Autism is different. I found a fantastic video and wanted to share with my family, friends and teachers. Share this with your family members, teachers, and anyone who spends time with your loved one with Autism.

xx,

H

Sensory Seekers vs. Sensory Avoiders

Autism is a broad spectrum which makes each person with Autism unique. However the majority are either Sensory Seekers or Sensory Avoiders. Here is a great list which details the difference between the two and behaviors associated with them. My son is a Sensory Seeker and every single one of these he does or has done.

Sensory seeking

  1. Spinning
  2. Climbing too high
  3. Climbing everything
  4. Crashing into things (people, furniture, walls)
  5. Mouthing/licking inedible things (furniture, toys, body)
  6. Chewing inedible things (clothing)
  7. Eating excessively
  8. Constantly wrestling with siblings
  9. Touching everything
  10. Playing with food
  11. Eating messily
  12. Overstuffing their mouth
  13. Eating spicy/hot foods
  14. Under-responding to pain (‘shakes it off’ quickly)
  15. Dumping out toy bins just to look at everything
  16. Engaging in excessive sensory play (mud, water, soap, etc.)
  17. Jumping
  18. Pushing
  19. Running barefoot
  20. Chewing on their toothbrush
  21. Not sitting still at their desk
  22. Falling out of their chair for no apparent reason
  23. Seeking loud noises (turns up TV, battery toys against ears, vacuum.)
  24. Failing to monitor their own volume (you constantly say, “Stop yelling!”)
  25. Smelling everything, even bad smell

Sensory Avoiders

  1. Picky eater (prefers one texture or basic flavors)
  2. Covers ears at noise (hates vacuum, blender, hand dryers)
  3. Avoids touch (not a ‘huggy’ or ‘cuddly’ kid)
  4. Hates tags/seams in clothing
  5. Won’t wear shoes (or prefers only one shoe type)
  6. Avoids messy activities (mud, sand)
  7. Avoids art activities like painting or playdoh
  8. Walks on toes
  9. Doesn’t engage in playground activities (climbing, swinging, etc)
  10. Hates a wet/dirty diaper/underwear
  11. Dislikes having people too close
  12. Refuses to take a bath/shower or play in the sprinkler
  13. Hates water on their face
  14. Hates/Refuse to brush their teeth
  15. Complains about smells
  16. Complain that normal light is too bright (wanting to wear sunglasses)
  17. Over-responsive to pain (everything hurts!)
  18. Avoids/refuses stickers/fake tattoos

 

xo,

H

Lack of Empathy and Compassion

We have entered a world where people can post whatever the want on message boards, Facebook posts, and blogs without any accountability or consequence. We have entered a world where people judge other people and don’t have any empathy for the people they judge. When my son was diagnosed with Autism, we entered a world where my husband and I have been accused of being lazy parents, parents who don’t enforce rules, and whose child is out of control due to our lack of parenting.

We have entered a world when a little boy with Autism is having a meltdown due to sensory overload in a parking lot and somebody videotapes it and posts in on Facebook. We have entered a world where instead of showing empathy and compassion for the parent or child there are comments about the child being retarded, should be beaten, the parents shouldn’t procreate, the child shouldn’t be let out of the house, the child is spoiled, the child will be the guy who kills kids in a school shooting, or my favorite, the parents are lazy and have no parenting skills.

We have entered a world where there have been numerous times I have come home in tears because my son was having a meltdown and people judged me as a bad parent because they were uneducated as to what Autism is. It took me a few years to not give a shit and realize that my number one focus was my son and if they weren’t educated about Autism then that was on them. What is scary is that with all the Autism Awareness and education, there are still people who lack understanding, empathy, and compassion.

Please see the attached photos, which are actual comments that were posted below the video of a child with Autism having a meltdown. In the post it states that the child has Autism, yet the comments show no empathy and compassion. They blame the parents even though they have never meet them or understand their struggles.

Now imagine that your child has Autism and you are reading these posts.

We live in a world were children are cruel and bullies are abundant and we wonder why? We live in a world with hate and school shootings and we wonder why? We live in a world where children commit suicide and we wonder why? We live in a world where people who love people of the same gender are killed solely based on their sexual preferences and we wonder why? We live in a world where people will riot and hurt others based on their political preference and we wonder why?

Everybody has issues and nobody is perfect. Why do we all try so hard to present this perfect image? Aren’t we creating more problems and issues trying to keep our problems and issues quiet?

I ask that as you wake up each morning and try and live a life not judging others and teach your children as well. I want to live in a world were we teach our children they don’t have to be perfect; not the best at sports or school but they always try their hardest. I want to be part of a world that teaches empathy and compassion. I want to live in a world where if a parent is struggling, we step up and help. I want to live in a world where we support and encourage each other. Help each other thru struggles and challenges. I want to live in a world where before you are able to post a comment on a message board, Facebook post, or blog, you ask yourself if you would say the same thing to your mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, or son.

Just my random thoughts for the day.

xx H

Encouraging Positive Behavior

I am sure if you read my blog, you will see numerous posts that are titled, “Encouraging Positive Behavior” because it is truly the most important aspect in your parenting to avoid meltdowns and to give your children the tools they need to be successful in life. Remember, as a parent, you are your child’s coach; you’re coaching them thru life and helping them make good choices and avoid bad ones.

This last weekend we were at the park. I bring cars, buckets, bubbles and basically any highly desired toy and lay them all out in the sand where we are sitting. I do this to encourage kids to come over to my children and play. I am essentially forcing social interaction to help my kids to interact with other kids and promote positive play.

While I was sitting and playing with a bunch of kids, I am watching this little boy running around the playground with his mom following him around. She was catering to his every need and anytime something didn’t go his way, he started throwing a fit. His mom would then let him do whatever he wanted, so he would stop crying. At one point, he tried to steal a kids toy and when the kid started crying, he hit the boy. The mother looked horrified, however she didn’t force the child to apologize and there was no consequence for his behavior. She apologized to the child and parent and moved on.

A few minutes later the little boy came running over to our group and wanted to play. The mom looked overwhelmed and I offered the boy a seat next to me. We started talking and she was voicing her frustrating with her child’s behavior. I told her that my son has Autism and I have been trained in ABA therapy and would she mind if I used some of my methods to see what happens. She agreed and we started playing.

A couple of basic tools/rules that I used included the following:

  1. If you want to borrow a toy from someone else, you need to ask permission and say please. The other child can say yes or no, however if they say no, they have 5 minutes to play with that toy and then they give the toy to the child who asked to borrow it. By doing this, you are giving each child a choice, and the 5 minutes is consistent for every child so now they have an expectation of when they are getting the toy.
  2. Every time a child agrees to share a toy or gives up the toy at the 5 minute mark, you high five them and say, “I like that you shared your toy, what a great choice.” This is encouraging positive behavior and children love praise. They will repeat the behavior over and over to get positive praise from a parent.
  3. If a child doesn’t want to share or doesn’t give the toy up at the 5 minute mark, you simply tell the child, “What a bummer that you didn’t give the toy to Billy, hopefully you will make a better choice next time” and take the toy away. This will teach the child that by sharing their toy they get rewarded and by not sharing their toys, they do not get rewarded.

After about ten minutes we had 6 children all playing with the toys together and sharing with one another. We even had one child offer to share his car before anyone asked to borrow it, because he wanted positive praise.

I then told all the kids we had to go home and it was time to help us clean up. The mom started panicking and trying to calm him down before he had any reaction. She nervously said, “he will have a meltdown because he wants to take a car home.” I responded that he was going to have a meltdown because you just gave him permission to. I knew that this sounded a bit harsh, but I really wanted to help her, and she was asking for my help, so I felt that being straight forward and honest was the best way I could help her.

I distracted the child and told all of the kids it was time to cleanup and to please pick up the cars and put in my bag. As soon as the first child put a car in the bag, I loudly said, “what a great choice you made by putting the car in the bag, thank you” and gave a big high five. Like clockwork, the kids started lining up eagerly trying to put the cars in the bag, even her son. Soon we were all cleaned up, nobody was crying, and everyone had fun.

At the end of the day, she was very appreciative of the new tools she had learned and was excited to use them with her son. As parents, there isn’t a class on how to deal with our children’s different behaviors or personalities. We kind of fly by the seat of our pants, do a lot of research online, talk to our mom friends, and do the best job we can. I was so happy that I could share what I had learned and now she saw first hand that her son is capable of playing nicely with other children, she just needed the right tools as his coach to show him how to do it.

Differences between ADHD and Sensory Processing Issues

Great chart explaining the differences between ADHD and Sensory Processing Issues.