So, you remember that post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about G playing T-Ball? You know how I talked about how I was camped out cheering from my spot near third base? What I said was mostly true. I did spend most of the game cheering from the sidelines.
But in the final inning of that game, the coach moved G from the outfield to first base. Woah… first base!! On the one hand, it was exciting to think that G was going to see some action. On the other hand, there is A LOT of action at first base. Every single time the ball is hit, chances are that it’s going to find it’s way to first base. I did the math. At the very beginning of the game, G was only paying attention to the batter about fifteen percent of the time. Now, ninety minutes later, G was only paying attention to the game about two percent of the time. Drawing figures in the dirt, twirling in circles, and chewing on his glove were far more interesting to G than watching the batter to see where he hits the ball.
So, I left the sidelines and went to hover near first base. I stayed there, about three feet away from G, for the entire inning. “Look at the batter, G!”, “Keep your eye on the ball, G!” and “If Jacob catches it, he’s going to throw it to you, G!”
Why was I standing there? On the surface, G’s behavior wasn’t too far outside the norm. Lots of kids were drawing in the dirt or spacing out. I didn’t see anyone else twirling or chewing their gloves… but I’m sure the other kids’ parents were aware of their kids’ idiosyncratic behavior that didn’t catch my eye.
But to me, even though G was doing really well in T-Ball, and his behavior and participation seemed to be meeting the coach’s expectations… I just couldn’t trust it. The G in my mind’s eye is the one who entered into physical therapy at nine months old because he didn’t seem to be learning to roll over, crawl, or sit up on his own. Walking, running, and climbing stairs were all skills that were mastered long after his peers had accomplished these milestones, and only through the repeated, guided instruction of a therapist. How could he possibly be learning to throw a ball, hit a pitch, and run the bases on his own?
At school, G receives support from an instructional aide. His teacher documents the tools and strategies used to break down information for G and help him focus. How could he possibly be picking up the subtleties of baseball on his own?
And yet, clearly, he’s doing it.
The day after my most-instrusive-sports-mom-ever performance, I decided I needed to reach out to G’s coach.
Here’s my message:
Hi Coach C,
I know we’re only mid-season… but I really wanted to thank you for everything you are doing for the team! It’s been a great experience for G to be part of the team. You’ve been so attentive and enthusiastic… he just loves coming to T-Ball.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that G has trouble sustaining attention and breaking down multi-step directions. He has autism, plus a speech/language delay. You’ve been so great at breaking things down for him, and I want you to know I really appreciate your attentiveness. I hope it wasn’t too intrusive that I was hovering at first base yesterday. Please let me know if you’d prefer for me to stay in the cheering section 🙂
Again, thanks for making this such a positive experience!
I agonized over the wording. I fretted over whether sending the email was the right thing to do. I regretted not giving Coach C the information about G’s diagnosis earlier. And then I received his response. The end of the message was a compassionate and understanding suggestion that I leave the coaching to the coaches. But the part that made me cry is this:
Thank you for sharing about G’s personal challenges. Not to dismiss in any way the reality of those hurdles, I want you to know that I see him as a very smart, fun loving kid with natural athletic ability who like most kids, is often excited but sometimes uncertain for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen him throw the ball well, and i’ve seen him not try at all. Did you see last night when he intuitively threw the ball at a base runner to get him out? It was sharp, decisive, and done with accuracy. Totally brilliant! Just not allowed in baseball, Haha!
What lucky star was shining down on us when the team assignments were made? I must have read that response about two dozen times.
Receiving Coach C’s message confirmed for me the source of my dilemma around disclosing G’s diagnosis. Yes, there are times when having the information (G has autism, he has a speech delay, he does best when information is broken down for him, etc.) can make or break a new situation. Telling a new teacher, or coach, or instructor about what has or hasn’t helped G in the past can often be crucial information.
But in this case, I think sharing that information with Coach C would have been undermining. G has never played T-Ball before. He’s never played ANY sport before. I had to go against every instinct I had just to sign him up for the team. If I had contacted the coach prior to the game and laid out all my worries on the table, it would have ruined it. My view of G and his abilities would have held him back.
I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have someone with Coach C’s disposition and attitude coaching my son. Someone who has the ability to look beyond G’s misinterpretation of the rules, and see the athletic potential behind it. Someone who can see G’s inconsistent effort and wants to figure out how to motivate him. Someone who enjoys my son as he is. Someone who can teach me to see my son in a new way. Someone who can allow me to let go of the image of all the things G couldn’t do in the past, and think about all the things he can do now.
Last night was the first game since this email exchange. For the entire game, I sat happily on my blanket. I felt comfortable that G was in good hands. I felt comfortable that I had communicated enough and that my role was to watch the game and cheer the players. I’m sure I’ll have many opportunities in the future to struggle with this dilemma– can G do this activity? What supports will he need? How much should I disclose and when? But for now… I will be grateful for this coach, this team, this moment.