Almost all year long, it’s sport season. In the winter, its basketball season. In the spring, it’s soccer season. In the summer, it’s beyond time for baseball, and we all know that people look forward to the fall strictly for football. Sports are a way for people to unite and come together, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. It’s fun and exciting to root for the home team or cheer for your little- leaguer. In fact, when parents sign their kids up to participate in sports at a very young age, it’s almost just as much for the parents as it is for the child. Sure, it’s a way to keep your youngster healthy and teach good sportsmanship, but parents (both moms and dads) dream of sitting under the bright lights for weekends on end. Hearing that your child is being “put into the game,” dressing up with your kid’s name on your shirt, and coaching/rooting from the sidelines—-the camaraderie of it all is very exciting!
Having your child engage in sports is also a very healthy way for parents and children alike to make friends. Often, that’s how children make some of their first friends. We sign our kids up for these sports and physical activities with hopeful hearts that they will learn and thrive to be the best that they can be.
With all that said, today, I am here to tell you that sports should NOT define your child. You read that right—-whether or not your kid excels in sports, SHALL NOT define you as a parent or your child and his or her future. Guess what? Not all kids are interested or have the motor skills to excel in team sports. Moreover, children that suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder often lack both gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Additionally, more than half of all individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism, also have signs of Attention Deficit, which makes it extremely hard to focus and pay attention to rules and directions. Both Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder are neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the central nervous system, which is responsible for movement, language, memory, social and focusing skills. With both ASD and ADD, brain development has been affected in some way. Most importantly, that includes the brain’s executive functioning, which is responsible for decision making, impulse control, time management and organizational skills. Both ADD and ASD are more common in boys.
Despite these setbacks, parents can also feel as if they have failed—failed to practice, throw, dribble, or kick a ball long enough with their child. Parents can be hard on other parents too; accusing others of not “pushing their kids hard enough” into team sports or looking down on the video game players of the world. Not playing team sports can be very intense and isolating for both parents and kids.
Find your tribe. It’s okay that your priorities are different. Perhaps you and your child were working on potty training when others were practicing t-ball. You guys were headed to therapies instead of the ball park. Just because some sports can be challenging for kids with Autism, doesn’t mean autistic kids should stay away from physical activity. Rather, it is important to help your child choose sports that they are likely to enjoy and excel at. Children with Autism can enjoy extracurricular activities such as martial arts, swimming, running, horse riding, wrestling and golf. Studies show that individuals with Autism are often better at individual sports rather than team sports. It is important for your child to express interest in participating in a sport in order to not leave both you and your child feeling frustrated. Once you and your child have identified some possibilities, check with your child’s doctors, teachers and therapists. Often, these professionals can suggest exercises and activities that you can even do at home. You can also check with your child’s school or community for programs in your area that may have leagues for children with disabilities. Some coaches are trained to work with kids with Autism. Overall, sport participation should emphasize social skills, patience, routine and repetition.