This guest post is by Jill Briesch, a tax accountant from Dallas, TX who has two sons, one with autism. She and her family are the DFW Node ambassador family for the Autism BrainNet Initiative.
For seven Saturdays, I’ve sat on the same bench and thought the same thoughts. “We’re not supposed to be here. He’s not supposed to be doing this.” Rhythmic thuds, the swish of a net, and a reverberating “YESSS!” bring me back to the present.
Thank goodness no one ever told him, my son with autism.
He’s playing basketball on a YMCA kindergarten boys team. A little thing. Except for us, it is so much more.
For a little over 4 of the 6 years of his life, Alexander spent his dawn to dusk working hard in therapy. 40 hours every week, plus commuting hundreds of miles between centers and clinics to top it off. Year-round. A grueling race against time to overcome the many challenges he faced and to be as ready as possible for kindergarten.
That marathon taught us many things, including that joy isn't always all that accompanies great progress. Progress and sadness go hand in hand too sometimes.
As Alexander began overcoming many of his early challenges, he became more and more aware of just how different his life was from the children around him. Knowing that while he was in therapy after school, his friends were playing sports was hard. H.A.R.D. I will never forget his frustration, his longing. Him saying, "I think I’m bad at being a friend. That’s why I go to speech (social skills) after school. Other kids go to baseball."
Deep, raw sadness. And it prompted us to do some reprioritizing. To knowingly and intentionally leave some things to be addressed later and to use that freed-up time on living. On the childhood experiences he wasn’t supposed to want or be capable of, but that he did indeed desperately want and had plenty adequate ability for.
This season in which his beloved team the Pirates won no games has been his dream come true. For our family, an experience for our son we never gave up hoping for but had been told never to expect. A recreation league team sport. Such a little thing, except sometimes it’s the little things that are so much bigger than we could have ever imagined.
To every person who has ever stepped up to coach a team or shepherd a club and extended encouragement and patience to every child, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts and from the many Alexanders out there who sleep with their treasured basketballs on their nightstands.
And to my son who is now eagerly counting down to the start of his first soccer season, keep taking us where we’re not supposed to be. You’ll never know how much you inspire your Daddy and me.