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My special needs child recently decided that he wanted to play AYSO soccer like the other kids at his school.  He is very high functioning and I was not concerned that he would be physically challenged in his play.  Rather, I had some misgivings that he might not interact with his teammates socially.  I was unsure whether they would accept his "unique" personality traits.  We have spent years working with his schools, teachers and peers to ensure that he has a constructive and positive environment in his academic life.  With his athletic life, we do not have the time or the support necessary to educate each of his teammates and/or their parents as to his specific issues and how to deal with him on a daily basis.

No, we just had to risk it.

On the first day of practice, I didn't want to make a big presentation to a team of strangers about my child's background.  He wanted to be one of the boys and I didn't feel the need to shine a huge spotlight on his forehead while the coach was providing instructions about practice time, game schedules and uniforms.  After the practice was over, I did privately take the coach aside and explained my child's situation.  The coach did not flinch, he did not worry, I didn't even notice a crease line come across his forehead.  He merely shook his head, told me he understood and that he would make sure my son had a positive experience.  maybe I should've been comforted but, in my own head, I worried that maybe he didn't really understand the needs of my son or the circumstances that arise with a special needs child.  I thought that it might make sense to provide him with some literature or a presentation to show him how to handle the situations that could occur if my son had a problem.  However, I didn't have the chance because he immediately moved on to the field to work with his team.

Soon thereafter, the kids had their first game.  And immediately, I realized how foolish I had been.  My son was fine.  His teammates were fine.  The coach was fine.  The parents, the referees, the field administrators, everybody who was involved, were fine.  The coach coached and the players played.  The children listened to instructions and worked together.  My son was an integral part of the team and interacted with the others exactly like every other 7-year-old on the field.  Sure, there were situations when he acted up, but to be honest, no worse than when any of the other kids acted up.  Apparently, 7-year-old kids act up and nothing bad happens, special needs or not.

The most refreshing part was the fact that the coach treated my son like all of the other children.  When my son listened, he was praised; when he didn't, he was corrected.  When he played well, people cheered; when he didn't, nobody said anything negative.  And I realized, as I watched the season unfold and thought back to my initial meeting with the coach, that the reason he didn't have a huge reaction when I explained my son's issues was that my boy was just like any other boy and the coach instinctively knew that.  He didn't see a special needs child; he saw a child and he has either been trained or experienced enough to know how to deal with a child.

I have spent 7 years trying to make sure my child lived a normal life.  Maybe I've been wrong, though.  Maybe I've been trying to make his life normal for me, not for him.  Apparently, both my child and the world around him knows how to treat a boy like a boy.

Maybe the only one who needs the lessons and the literature and the presentations is me?

Rhonda Wyndham


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