April is the time of year we begin thinking about spring and summer sports. Nothing can compare to a summer baseball game. Many of my favorite childhood memories are related to baseball and softball. For as long as I can remember, sports have been a part of my life. My mother faithfully brought my sisters and I to watch my father play. If the Yankees or Red Sox were on, we gathered together in the living room to root for our favorite team. As a girl, I played softball in Little League and high school.
Now as a parent, my role is to introduce sports to my sons. The benefits of team sports are undeniable. Being part of a club can provide fun, friends, and discipline. Participating in athletic endeavors can positively influence academics and self-esteem. From the moment my oldest son, Ben, was born, I envisioned him as an athlete.
After Ben was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, ensuring Ben joined community sports had an added sense of necessity. His doctors and therapists stressed the importance of social endeavors for children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Ben’s desire for friends is glaringly apparent; although he doesn’t know the appropriate social cues to initiate friendships
Sports seemed like an ideal opportunity for Ben to engage with his peers. Our local Y offered a basketball biddy ball clinic introducing pre-schoolers to the fundamentals of the game. It was advertised as a fun interactive program for the youngsters in our community, run by a professional coach.
From the moment we stepped in the gym; it was a disaster. Ben spent his time lapping the court. The coach didn’t even acknowledge Ben. I knew immediately, there wasn’t going be any mentoring in this program. After several weeks, unable to contain my fury any longer, I withdrew Ben from the program. Since then, we’ve tried t-ball, soccer, baseball, swimming, and track.
Each year, participating in sports becomes easier and harder. As Ben is maturing, he has more focus and a clearer understanding of the game fundamentals. Each season, his teammates become more aware of the fact Ben is different. Thankfully, Ben doesn’t feel different, not yet.
I know someday, Ben will have questions. Sadly, my biggest concern isn’t the disdain of Ben’s peers. I worry about their parents. On every sideline, there is always at least one competitive parent, shouting their critiques for all to hear. I see their disappointment as they watch their child, and mine.
Once again I’m faced with the decision. Do I enroll Ben in sports this season? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Are the very activities meant to bolster his independence a detriment to his self-esteem?
Have we lost sight of the purpose of sports? Wasn’t the original intent for children to have fun?
Ben is seven. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. His life will be full of challenges. They shouldn’t begin on the fields of extracurricular sports.