My 7-year-old is playing his first year of flag football this fall and his first game was this weekend. He tried playing soccer a few years ago, which didn't work out so well. But he tried, and that's all that we ask.
Most of you know Seth was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.5. He has made amazing strides since then, and for that we are so grateful to God and his hand in this.
When he played soccer, at five, he made it through about a third of the season before we could no longer get him to attend. It was too much, too confusing, too overwhelming. Even team pictures were too much. So when he began begging to play flag football in August once he heard about it at church, we were reluctant. Not reluctant to let him try. Reluctant to pay $80 for him to not be able to handle it after two practices!
Hey, that may sound harsh, but that's the reality.
So far with the practices, he has surprised me a lot. He has not complained once about going; he seems to be engaged while we are there, listening and talking to the coaches, doing what he's told. He tells me he really doesn't understand the plays, but he does what his coach tells him to.
For his first game, though, I wasn't sure how he would handle it. He doesn't handle people in a crowd watching very well. After his first grade spring musical last May, he told me that "everyone was watching me and it makes me feel confused." Everyone clapping made him feel weird, as well.
Another great surprise - he didn't seem to really care about the crowd. It wasn't very big, and was spread out enough among all the fields that I don't think it seemed much different than practice to him.
He ran around doing as much of a play that he could remember, engaged in the game for the most part, and interacted with at least one other player on his team that he is getting to know. I even saw them giving one another thumbs-up signs. That kind of social interaction melts the heart of this mama of a child with autism.
No, he really couldn't follow the game or process what was happening as a whole. No, I don't think he gets what the plays are doing and what the goal is. While other kids on this team of 2nd and 3rd graders were pumped to be playing the game like real football players and getting into the plays, etc., my son was running when the coach would yell, "Go get him, Seth! Go get him, Seth!" because that is how this very awesome man (Noblesville Middle School's very own Troy Leach) figured out very quickly to communicate with Seth from the sideline in a way that he could process, understand, and be a part of the action. He knew to go after the guy with the ball to get his flag.
And of this, I am extremely proud. You see, we have a different set of standards that does not include making touchdowns, being the fastest, handling the ball the most, or making great plays work. Our standards are not lower, just different.
Our goals? Interact with others. Make eye contact. Listen. Understand and learn the value of working together with a team. Engage. Try to process what the coach is telling you. Process and handle appropriately the sensory overload of lots of quick movement, people yelling, fast transitions, strangers all around you.
And this week we added to that sensory overload a dose of pouring down rain the last 10 minutes of the game, which I could tell was starting to send him sideways, but he handled even that well until we got to the car; at which time he came undone all the way home about being wet and cold.
You know what? That's okay, dude. You just spent the last 90 minutes completely taxing your processing, sensory management, and emotions. You pushed yourself to the limit without breaking. You can come unglued with the people who love you the most!
For all of this, I am so thankful to God for leading Seth to this point. Another milestone passed!