We have a little sports rivalry in our household: soccer vs. gymnastics. We started as a gymnastics family after my oldest, Ana, picked it out after dabbling in soccer, tennis, and figure skating. She progressed rather quickly since being on the competition team starting in 2nd grade. Gymnastics took up a significant portion of our lives when we lived in Miami. Ana had practice 6 days a week and we often traveled to Orlando, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale for meets. Because Ana was the oldest, her younger 3 siblings were always in tow watching her meets. Carlos would occupy his time with his game boy, but Philip took in many hours watching gymnastics. When we moved back to Buffalo in 2009, Ana continued with gymnastics while Carlos started playing soccer in grade 4. Though he was relatively late to start compared to most of his teammates, he easily caught on due to his natural athleticism. He now plays for his middle school as well as our town’s travel team. Lia, the youngest, does both gymnastics and soccer. She can’t decide which one she likes better, but her brother and sister like to try to sway her to their respective sports. In addition to gymnastics meets, Philip has also taken in countless hours of his siblings’ soccer games.
Over the past few months, I have discovered Philip considers himself a sports fan, though not as avid as Carlos (he communicated this on his letterboard). He will watch Sports Nation and Sports Center with Carlos. It’s no wonder he is familiar with Tom Brady and other famous sports figures. He has had sports conversations with Carlos and his Uncle Mike. Once when asked if he liked football or hockey better, Philip replied, “I LIKE HOCKEY BETTER BECAUSE UNCLE MIKE PLAYS HOCKEY.” When Uncle Mike asked how he thought the Bills would do this year, he answered with a reasonable “OK.” This goes along with Philip’s even keeled nature. He doesn’t buy into the bipolarness of most Buffalo sports fans.
I’ve been interested in finding out what sport Philip might like to try. In my own mind, I thought swimming or track would be ideal because he enjoys the water and he runs very fast. Once I did a lesson on Special Olympics and competitions. Then I asked him, would you like to compete someday? To my dismay he replied, “N.” Would you like me to enroll you in swimming? “N.” “How about track?” “N.” “Would you like to try any sport?” “Y” “Which one?”
To prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke, I asked him several times and even once in front of his social worker. His answer has consistently been gymnastics. The only problem was there were no “adaptive” or special needs gymnastics classes in the area. What to do? My sister has her 3 year old son at a local kids’ gym called Rolly Pollies. She suggested I check it out as it is a non-competitive program that takes kids up to 12 years old. I called the owner and explained my situation. He was very supportive saying they had had special needs kids in the past and did their best to accommodate them. I decided to let Philip try a free class.
Yesterday was Philip’s first day at gymnastics. I was a little nervous upon arrival. Philip was full of energy and wanting to explore the place as soon as we got there. His class of all neurotypical kids was arriving. How would this go? I went to class as Philip’s shadow. The first thing they did was “follow the leader” around the gym. I made sure Philip stayed on track following the kids’ path. Then they got in a circle and did stretches and exercises. It was a huge deal that Philip was imitating their actions! He wasn’t perfect at it, but you could tell he was really trying! He also had to suppress the urge to get up and run to the tumble track to jump. He did do that a couple times, but I easily got him back in the circle. Philip did all sorts of stretches, swimming kicks, push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. Finally they had free time. Philip loved the tumble track and foam pit. He even stayed among the kids as they played around him. One of the kids, who picked up Philip’s name, came and introduced himself as Luke. It was very sweet. I love seeing kids who have a natural sense of compassion for Philip. All-in-all I was so happy and pleased with how it went. I had never seen Philip so cooperative and working so hard to be part of the group.
When we got home, I asked Philip how it went. “IT WAS FUN. I AT EASE.” “What did you think of the stretches and exercises?” “PAINFUL” “Do you want to keep going back? “Y. I AM TASTING NATIONAL AFFIRMATION.” “Do you mean natural affirmation? Like you are proud of yourself?” “Y.” “What do you think of the kids?” “THEY NICE.” “Do you know any of their names?” “LUKE.” “Do you want me to explain to the kids next time about your autism or should we keep quiet about it?” “TALK ABOUT AUTISM.”
Self-determination is a wonderful thing. To see Philip’s happiness for making his own choices and achieving his goals makes my heart swell with joy!
(Written the evening of 9/11)
Today I asked Philip if he knew what today was significant for. He spelled “NINE ELEVEN.” “What do you know about it?” “YESTERDAY AT SCHOOL ANYONE NOT WRITING YOU (probably in reference to his teachers writing their daily progress notes that go home to the parents) WAS TALKING ABOUT NINE ELEVEN.” “You mean the teachers?” “Y” “Do you know what happened on 9/11 twelve years ago? “N”
We then watched a Brain Pop video on 9/11, did the quiz, and talked about it. Philip was able to answer questions about terrorism, where the attacks took place, the twin tours, President Bush, and the heroes who died saving lives. It is very nice to finally be able to talk to Philip about the things most people talk about.