A few weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking if there were interest in a youth soccer program for children with Autism and other special needs. I immediately responded, without even asking Mark for his input, nearly bouncing in my seat for such an opportunity for Corrigan. Everyone agreed that it was time to try a sport and I felt comforted that we would be among “our people” so to speak, rather than trying to integrate him into a typical team situation.
I wasn’t expecting miracles, trust me. I didn’t even buy special shoes, or shin guards, because I wasn’t going to spend too much money until we made it to the first practice to see how comfortable he felt in such a new scenario. It is not a competitive team, it is simply skill-based, so I had hoped that he would at least enjoy being around other children, getting some fresh air and putting his foot on a ball.
I even expected things to be chaotic, but I figured that we were all parents of unpredictable kids, so maybe I could relax if things went south. I would expect Corrigan would have the most issues in an inclusion-based team, with neurotypical peers, but I did not expect him to be the one with the most issues in a large group of children with special needs. It was brutal for me to watch him stand out as the one on the field that would not line up. Would not move to an assigned spot for drills. Would not even stay on the assigned field for some of the time, instead, inexplicably, he wanted to be down on another field, where older high school boys were kicking 45mph balls into the net.
He chirped and jumped and flapped. He melted down a few times. He got into other people’s way almost the entire time. He pretty much planted himself in the net (he gets a sensory pleasure out of the net material) and danced and spun and ignored nearly everything aside from the few times I, or someone else, determinedly re-directed him. And even then, it lasted seconds before he returned to dancing in the goal. He wouldn’t focus, he wouldn’t allow others to move him and I stood for an hour, taking photos out of habit, while my heart pounded in my throat. All I kept thinking was, “He’s been in school for THREE YEARS NOW, how does he not know how to at least LINE UP?” He was constant movement, unable to be still for even a split second.
On the way home, embarrassingly, I cried. Hot, fat, stupid tears, once again yet all the while, in the backseat, he sang his favorite songs and kicked his legs happily. He wanted to go to bed as soon as we got home, and all evening, after I tucked him in, I stomped around the house angrily. Why can’t things ever feel normal? Why did this happen to my sweet boy? Will he ever ever ever be able to do things that other kids his age do? Am I stupid for even trying? I tried going to bed early, my back was aching almost as much as my heart, but in bed I only tossed and turned. Long after midnight, I got up for some headache medicine and sat down in front of my computer. I knew that sleep was going to elude me, my mind had snuggled up tight with Mr. Insomnia, so I figured some stupid online distractions might help. Beside my computer was my camera, and while I didn’t really want to see photos of my boy out on the field, standing out in all the wrong ways, I figured it was as good a time as any to upload them to the April folder and clear the card.
What I saw when the upload was finished was completely opposite of what I saw with my own eyes earlier on the field. Sure, I caught some shots that made it look like he was participating, I am really good at creating “truth” with my camera, but I couldn’t create the real and true joy staring at me from my computer screen. What I saw was heart-melting, not heart-breaking. What I saw, instead, was a little boy sweaty from exercise, which is never a bad thing. What I saw was a boy with a smile as big as his face, crooked little teeth gleaming in the evening sun. What I saw was a brave, sweet child spinning and chirping in the midst of chaos, in a new situation that years ago would have made him sob and scream, but instead he retreated into himself, but not so much that he wasn’t out there being a part. He was having fun, by golly.
And isn’t that what really matters?
I am proud of you, Corrigan Mooney. I really really am.
Also, this kid is made for goalkeeper position-but I am thinking the feeding tube button might be a problem. (so many photos to follow, worth it though. Trust me.)
Though when the track started to curve, he instead kept running straight, through the grass, across the baseball field and over into the woods. Daddy yelling, “STOP FORREST STOP!” Oh man, laugh or cry- right?!