I watched the snow covered ground wiz by my window when it occurred to me that I wasn’t nervous. Finally, the day of the Roc’s very last basketball game, and I felt fine. I glanced back over my shoulder and the Roc’s eyes met mine.
“I’m anxious Mommy. I don’t know how to play offense,” he said, the fear tight around his eyes. I may not have been nervous, but my little guy sure was.
“Roc, you have done great at every single game you’ve been in so far. I know you are nervous. That’s ok. There’s a lot to remember when you’re playing isn’t there?” I asked him.
“Yes, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Remember when coach T helped you a couple weeks ago during a game? He reminded you where to go and when you were on offense or defense? Would you like him to do that again?” I asked him.
“Yes… I think that would be very helpful,” he responded.
“Ok then, we’ll ask him when we get there.”
“Can you ask him, I’m too nervous to do that,” he said.
I smiled and hoped he felt reassured with our plan to ask coach T for some assistance as I turned to face the front. My insides burned to know the Roc was still as anxious as he was at the beginning of basketball in January, that he still felt so overwhelmed. I deeply wished that it wasn’t so hard for him, that he could feel more at ease with himself, with his body, with his ability, and with the other boys. Every week my heart has both soared and ached watching him practice and play. I’ve felt his fear, watched his stiff movements, seen him miss all ques, watched the other children on his team ignore him – because he was never looking their way when they had the ball! The game has been hard for him to understand, and the pace quickened as the weeks went by and the other children really “got” into it. Despite it all he’s out there.
He’s out there.
He’s trying his best.
Those two things are HUGE. If you know autism, you know the enormity of the Roc playing basketball. So many factors, the big gym, those awful lights, the children running the court, the squeaking shoes, the court ringed with parents all watching, the coaches yelling, the parents yelling, the buzzer sounding every 5 minutes, the whistles, and on and on. All of those things an assault to his system, both while he was sitting watching and then huge for him to overcome while he was actually out on the court…trying to remember which way to run, who to guard, what to do during offense and defense, to watch the ball, or get the ball, or what to do if he was actually passed the ball, and on and on. A lot going on, a lot to see, a lot to do, a lot to process – all for a kid who needs a little extra processing time.
He was out there.
As we set up our chairs to watch the final game I thought about it all and how much of it was never expected. I thought about the conversation we had before I signed him up, and how he said he would probably sit out during the games, and then never mentioned it again when he wasn’t given that choice, he went along and did his best. I thought about the time he cried, hard, before we went to a practice, how he was overcome by his anxiety, and then he worked through it. I thought about how big his smile was after every game and how he would always say, “Mommy, I did my best!”
I thought about it all as I watched him shoot and then join his team to wait for the game to start. My stomach tightened as I he was slated to go out with the first group of boys. When they blew the whistle coach T ran along his side of the court, encouraging the Roc and giving him directions. The Roc’s special ed teacher Miss G showed up then, she had emailed me the day before with the hope that she would be able to come. She came to his very first game, took lots of pictures, made a social story about basketball, and had been encouraging him every week during school to tell her about the game, and had him practice defense with two older boys in her room. When the Roc looked over and saw her he grinned shyly. He was so happy to see her, so happy to have someone come and watch him. My heart felt like it would explode and I said without pause, “I am SO proud of him, just look at him.” Miss G smiled behind the lens of her camera. She knew. Knew what it meant to have him out there, how hard he was working, how huge this was for him.
When the game was over the Roc came to us and asked for the gifts we had put together for the coaches who volunteered their time. We had made them brownies and gotten gift cards to a sporting goods store. The Roc handed over each gift with a shy, “Here you go,” and a prompted “Thank you for being my coach.” I had told both coaches before how much their time and attention meant to me, and I said thank you again, feeling that it wasn’t really enough to explain how grateful I really was for the way they welcomed the Roc onto the team.
I asked the Roc if he wanted a picture with his two coaches and he surprised me by saying, “YES!” right away.
I snapped a final picture of him, knelt down in front of him and told him again how proud I was of him playing basketball.
He summed it up for me.
“I tried my best Mommy! and it was fun too!”
I know he did and I really couldn’t be more proud of the Roc.