This guest post is by Jennifer Doll about an ice skating group for individuals with disabilities called “Gliding Stars”.
I don't know that I've been on the same journey as all Autism mothers, but I know that I've been on ours for 8 years. Completely. Emotionally. Physically. And up until now...very quietly. I have struggled with so many questions and so much self-doubt. Did you all doubt yourself as much as me? It was hard to decide what therapies were best for my son, which doctors I could trust and even which friends and family members would support me without question. But the hardest thing for me to do was make my son leave his comfort zone and push him to do something he wasn't 100% comfortable doing. To be truthful, I NEVER pushed for any of those things to happen either. I didn't want to cause him more stress and I thought that keeping him home, where he loved to be, was best for him and for myself.
Autism was and is stressful to him and to me. When I found out about an adaptive ice skating program for special needs children, The Gliding Stars, I was intrigued. We could try, once, and if he hated it or I felt like it wasn't right for him, we never had to go back. He does have Autism and why in the world would he want to or even enjoy ice-skating? I would love to tell you that we put his ice skates on and he took off skating, smiling and was instantly transformed into an Olympic quality figure skater right before our eyes. That did not happen. That first day, he screamed and screamed, begging me to "Get me out of here!!”
It took four people to physically get his terrified kicking and screaming body onto the ice. They seated him on an adapted walker so that he could at least put his skates on the ice and feel what that is like. He stayed on the ice for about 20 minutes, while a very calm volunteer pushed him slowly and reassured him quietly about everything being ok. As I stood at the glass, willing the tears that were building up to not fall, the most amazing thing happened.
People walked towards me, embraced me and told me that everything would be ok. They told me stories about how their child screamed in the beginning, just like mine, and now they can't wait until Sunday afternoon to get on the ice. They asked me about my son, about his autism, and they asked about ME!! Not one person cared that he was screaming and no one was judging my parenting ability...for once. I left the ice rink and buckled my son into his seatbelt. I picked up my cellphone and called my mom. I heard her voice and burst into tears. She said, "how was it?" and the only thing I could say was "Mom, it was horribly wonderful and I can't wait to go back next Sunday afternoon!” We did go back the following Sunday and every Sunday after that.
I remember one particular Sunday, as his volunteer helped Jackson skate towards me, I did the unthinkable. I screamed, "Push his walker away!!" What? Did I just say that?? What if he falls? What if he can't skate without the walker? What was I thinking?? Then it happened, he skated. HE SKATED!! His volunteer was beaming (and holding on to the safety harness) and Jackson was proud. I don't know that he had ever felt pride before. Be he certainly did on that day, and so did I. We started skating in October, and before I knew it, March had rolled around and it was time for the annual Gliding Stars ice show.
This year's show was titled "Rockin' in the USA" and our son was going to skate in front of a crowd and perform for the first time EVER! We had never seen him sing in a school concert or be part of anything that required him to be in front of a crowd. Questions and doubt started to creep in; ok they consumed me and kept me from sleeping. But he did it. He skated every single time that it was his turn. He smiled. He waved. He took his first bow. I think I might have been the proudest mother within a five-mile radius at that moment. We're skating again; we just had our first skate of the season last Sunday.
He's stronger and braver than I ever imagined he could be, even at nine years old. What would have happened when he was five if I had expected more? Would he have been further along on this Autism journey or better off?? Who knows? It's this kind of self-doubt that still keeps me up at night. I'm hoping that we all can give our special needs kids more opportunities and chances to feel proud and successful. I wish every single special needs child could have "The Gliding Stars" experience. Ice-skating may seem an unlikely activity for our kiddos...but for some reason it helps and it makes sense. I only wish I could have done it sooner.