Stories From the Heart: Special Needs Kids and Team Sports

It is a bright sunny day and the weather is perfect for a soccer game.  The soccer ball is coming fast down the grassy field.  The boys are all trying to defend it by kicking the ball away.  My 11 years old HFA and Asperger son is on this defensive team.  He is ready and kicks the ball out from between the offensive players’ legs.  What a save right?

My Autistic sons’ stories don’t generally end that simple, but it appears after each moment in time, and in this case there is no disappointment.

But then the offensive boy calls my son a name.  It doesn’t matter what the name is.  My son no longer cares about the soccer ball. He heads straight for the player and pushes him to the ground.  Of course this is not permitted in a soccer game and he gets carded and sent out.  His frustration level is high now and he can’t calm down. He runs away to get all of the emotion out of his body, head and later calmly returns.  Everyone is wondering what happened.

It is tough for our special needs children to be involved in team sports. Team sports should be a rewarding and fun time.  I have spoken to many parents that don’t involve their special needs kids in team activities anymore.  It just became too difficult and I am sad about this.

For one, it is such a good way to get the exercise and high level of physical activity our kids need.  Secondly, being part of a team typically enhances friendships because they have this sport in common and enjoy it together.  Generally our special needs kids are lacking in friendships due to the inability to understand the complex relationship in being and having a friend or at the other end of the spectrum because they are the ones being teased, taunted and bullied.

As my son grows older in age, his maturity grows at a much slower rate than the other boys on his team.  He has asked us that we not tell the others that he is autistic because most team players do not understand autism and don’t want to be educated on it.  Now at the soccer games, I am fearful that he will act out or say something inappropriate.

He will outcast himself as he has done so many times before unbeknownst to himself.  We attempt to explain to him these non-existent social rules.  He listens and says that he understands but as soon as he steps onto the field, they are forgotten or missed.  He loves this game and he is a good player.

In the end all he wants from the game is a friend, but the playing field is not fair just like in life.  The lack of fairness in life is a good lesson for anyone to learn, but these special needs kids are already at a disadvantage once diagnosed and to continue this theme in their life just places an even greater emphasis on how much they have to overcome to be accepted.

By Monica Johns

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: “Lila, Mom’s a Witch!”

God blessed me with two wonderful and witty children with Autism. Having worked with Special Needs children for 12 out of my 18 years of teaching, I have always believed that these children should be held to high standards and that we should never treat them any “special.” In my home there is no such word as “handicapped” or “modifications.”

My two children are expected to give 110% all the time in everything they do. Well, one day, I was getting after my daughter, she was 8 years old at the time because she had had a melt-down in the classroom and did not want to do her work. Of course, she became upset at me for getting after her and she called me a “monster.” My oldest son, was 10 at the time and very seriously he tells her, “Lila, Mommy is not a monster!” I was thinking to myself, oh how sweet, Jose is standing up for me. Then he finishes his thought, “Lila, Mommy is a witch!”

So, with friends like them, who needs enemies! I was blown away laughing inside of me, because at least I knew that my children were expressing their thoughts and feelings, even if that meant I was a witch!

By Dalia Rangel

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Ebony, Our Little Boss

Our family has been blessed with a very special gift!  Our son, our grandson, our brother, Ebony (the Boss) is four years old.   He has brown curly hair, big brown eyes and the most adorable smile that could melt your heart.  He loves letters, numbers, music and his family, especially when they are all outdoors.  Looking at Ebony you would never know that he has a disorder called Autism.

Autism affects every aspect of Ebony’s life, and the lives of everyone around him.  Ebony has come a very long way since his diagnosis in 2007.   Since then, he has learned to say a few words, loves to work his computer, his big brothers’ and sister’s iPod touch, has a fascination with words and numbers, is attending regular senior kindergarten this September and loves to be with his family and their dogs.  At home, if you hear a door open to the back yard, the odds are so very high that it’s Ebony heading outside to jump on the trampoline and play with his swing set.

But for all of his intelligence, Ebony still cannot interact appropriately with others.  He has trouble processing the world around him.  He has many sensory issues that prevent him enjoying the things that we all take for granted.  There are three older children, two very athletic boys who play football and baseball ages 17 and 14 and a daughter who is a very talented gymnast and dancer and is 12 years old.  While this is a terribly exciting time for us all as we see Ebony progress, it’s also a frustrating time.

We have learned that Autism is a complex brain disorder that often inhibits a person’s ability to communicate, respond to their surroundings or form relationships with others. Autism spectrum disorders affect people of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and occur in as many as one in 110 births, one in 70 boys, making it more common than paediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.  And the numbers are still rising!

Currently the cause of Autism is unknown. There are no one specific medical treatments or a cure for Autism.   Ebony’s parents are doing everything possible to offer the most normal and functioning life and they work with a fantastic support system ensuring our little boss has a happy life.  Ebony’s older sister is not afraid of what others think and she openly will explain to anyone, that her brother is not a brat but “an angel with Autism”.

This year, as a family, we made the decision to make every effort to increase Autism Awareness. For the first time, and certainly not the last, we walked in the Toronto, Walk Now for Autism as a family team and we put every effort into our fundraising. We held bake and candy sales, charity events, canvassing our neighbours and friends and the children did a remarkable job of getting others to join in.

From the moment we decided to participate, every step of the preparation and fund raising was such a special project for me and as a grandmother; it gave me a feeling of being able to help in a small way.  I threw myself into contacting friends and co-workers making everyone aware of our goal and at every opportunity, I explained to people why this walk was so important.

Ebony is our special gift from God and he is teaching us all so very much!  We know that there is more in that little brown head than meets the eye. His smile lights up a room, his giggles are infectious.  Ebony is the most amazing little man we’ve ever known, and we rejoice in having each day with him.

By Maggie Irvine-Bowles

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: My special needs ASD Child

When I got pregnant at age 39 I knew there was a greater risk of having a child with a disability. I had a background in special education so I knew that if that should happen I would be okay and that I would deal with whatever I was faced with. My late husband did not have any experience with special needs children so it was important that we discussed the possibility we faced in regards to the elevated risk in getting pregnant at my age. He also did not have any issues with the possibility and was bound and determined to face any problems head on.

On February 13th at around 12:35 PM our beautiful baby boy was born. My sister who was in the room for the delivery described him as the “Gerber baby“ and my dream to be a mother was finally realized. Braydon grew quickly and appeared to be developing at an average rate. He sat up when he was supposed to, he stood, crawled and walked when he was supposed to and babbled as most babies do until he was 18 months old. The city sends out a pamphlet to new parents with a checklist of words a child should know at a year and a half. As I went down the checklist to see what words Braydon knew I realized after the first few words that he was nowhere near average standards for speech production for a child of his age. This to me was cause for concern.

The pamphlet included a number of a company for parent’s to call if their child was not meeting the average benchmark for speech production. This company specializes in kids who appear to be speech delayed and assist the parent in giving them tips to help the child’s development. Part of this program was a playgroup for children 2 to 4 who were behind in their speech development. The idea behind the playgroup was for kids to learn how to socialize and acquire new language through play. The speech pathologist from our local children’s hospital assigned to our son who went to those playgroup sessions, noticed that he did not socialize with the other kids and had his own agenda as to what he wanted to do at the playgroup. He appeared to exhibit an attention deficit problem as well.

By the time he was 2 years and 8 months old an appointment was set up at a program that provides assistance for children with developmental and physical challenges to have him assessed by a psychologist to find out what was going on. As we had no one to sit for our son my late husband stayed home to look after him and my sister who was a Special Education Consultant for a local school board went with me to the assessment. It lasted approximately 2 hours and after the time was up we were told we would get a call for the assessment results in a few days. Keep in mind that at the time of the assessment our son was practically non-verbal. He spoke maybe a handful of words at the most and never spoke more than two or three word utterances.

My sister did not expect a cut and dried diagnosis because of Braydon’s age and his lack of speech or language at the time of the assessment and the fact that the assessment wasn’t even completed on the day of the assessment.  The diagnosis was GDD or Global developmental delay and PDD NOS with an oral motor speech disorder.  He also had some fine motor challenges. We agreed with the PDD NOS because of his lack of social awareness and the oral motor speech disorder because that was obvious but we had great issue with the GDD diagnosis.  How could she possibly give us a firm diagnosis when she didn’t even finish the assessment? And how could she possibly know what he could do when he hardly spoke a word?

My momma bear took over when she basically told us that our son would never learn past a certain point and that he would not amount to  much in life considering the” severity” of his developmental delay. We all knew that the GDD diagnosis was not accurate and I was determined to prove her wrong. She felt that because he did not know how to complete a simple puzzle he was terribly delayed. I never taught him how because his speech development was a priority for me, puzzle making was not. I went out and bought puzzles to tech him the alphabet and his shapes and simple wooden puzzles so he would learn how to complete those. He learned his alphabet and all his shapes including octagon in about a month or less. That proved to me that the so called “professional” was way off in her GDD diagnosis and that there was a lot more going on with Braydon than he was able to express.

When he entered Kindergarten at age 5,  I made sure he had an assistant to help him because he would not have survived in that large class without one. By the end of Sr. Kindergarten it was obvious that he would have to repeat kindergarten at age 6 because there was no special needs class who would accept him without a proper and up to date diagnosis. The school pushed us to have another one and in the summer when he was 6 we tried again and the diagnosis was not forthcoming because the assessment was not completed. This time we hired a private psychologist and she could see that he had more going on than he was able to express and felt it was unfair to give him an incorrect diagnosis.

After one more horrendous year in kindergarten at age 6 -7 the school who was convinced by this time that he was Autistic pushed us to have another assessment done so he would get a placement in a coveted Autism class in our school board. In March of 2009 he was diagnosed with Autism disorder. It is considered a mild form of Autism on the spectrum and he has symptoms unique to him which is why it took so long to get the Autism disorder diagnosis. We say he has his own spectrum because although he does meet some of the criteria for Autism he has other behaviours that belong only to him.

He is a joy to anyone who knows him. He does not have any aggressive behaviour, he doesn’t have angry outbursts and he aims to please when he’s not being stubborn that is. For my late husband and me the fact that we had a special needs child was not cause for dismay but a privilege to have been trusted to be the parent’s of our special boy. Yes he is different, yes he marches to the tune of his own drum but he is healthy and happy and that is all a parent hopes for in their children.

By Pamela Thompson

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.


Stories From the Heart: The Victory Over Autism – A Poem of Hope and Recovery

The burden lies with me alone.
Though it is something, I should have known,
My dearest friends cannot conceive,
The deep sorrow that time will not relieve.
Must I explain my every thought?
Why at times I have strength naught?

To say it is a torture would be a lie,
The work involved is worth the try.
To reach the inmost of the mind,
Is the treasure I know I’ll find.
I love what others see as a curse.
Belief runs deep, when known it could be worse.

To see a smile, feel love, hear speech,
It makes it worth the effort to reach.
I say I am alone, but ‘tis not true.
My determination and faith will carry me through.
I may break down; my strength seems to fail,
But hope is there, I will prevail.

I pray to the One on bended knee,
Will help others to one-day see
A child that is already whole,
The beauty deep within her soul.
This day will come with reality,
Until it arrives, patience has to be.

At times alone, yea, I will feel,
But I will continue to work with zeal.
Each goal that is reached gives me hope anew,
My faith in her will always be true.
I shall not give up, I will always be bold
And love my girl with her heart of gold.

By Christina Briggs

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Counting Our Blessings

Many years ago, my husband and I were like many other couples, married later in life, both working, we wanted to have a family, and were not able to conceive. After years of treatments, we finally made the decision to adopt. After many twists & turns, we were surprised by a call regarding a little 8 month old boy, who was being cared for by his Grandparents until a family could be found. Would we be interested in meeting him? “Of course!” we said, and our lives were totally changed from that one call.

It was the first time that my husband had ever held a baby; he just stared at him in awe. Afterward he confided to me that if we didn’t get this little guy, he would be devastated.  A couple of weeks later we were taking him home, he would be ours, and we named him Harrison. We were THRILLED. Little did we know then, that this special little gift held more surprises for us just around the corner.

His paediatrician said that he was healthy, in the 25% range, but that he had not reached some of the typical milestones. He said it might just be developmental delays due to his early care. Good care, love and nutrition could do wonders for a child. Up until then, he had been bounced around a bit within his family. He had also been born w/ some drugs in his system. The doctor felt that we should wait a little longer before having him tested for possible problems. He didn’t want him “labelled” prematurely.

At 3-1/2 Harrison was diagnosed with Autism, and we were turned inside out trying to learn all we could about this puzzling disability, and what we could do to improve our son’s chances. Back then Autism was not in the public eye, like it is now, the internet was the source for information. We didn’t even know anyone who was Autistic. I had to learn “the code” and how to navigate through things like ESE, med waiver, OT, PT, ST, ABA therapies, elopement, meltdowns, 504’s & IEP’s, and lack of sleep. We soon had alarms on every window and door, so we would know if Harrison had snuck outside to look at something, only he had the impulse to see.

Now Harrison is 13. We have since adopted a second special needs child, “Hannah” from China. In the last 2-1/2 years since we brought her home, Harrison has reached many more milestones, many we think have been achieved with the help & encouragement of a little sister. He continues to excel in “baby steps”, and we couldn’t be more proud of him. Our lives are never dull, full of challenges, but we couldn’t imagine living it without this little man’s part in it.

Autism is a blessing in many ways. He has taught us patience, perseverance, joy, frustration, focus, but most of all love. He doesn’t pay attention to what other people think or say about him, he is his own person. He finds joy in the simplest of things, most of us tend to overlook.

He never forgets anything. He doesn’t “get lost”, it’s us who do. He is loyal to a fault: Thomas the Tank is still as important to him now, as it was when he was 3, whether anyone else thinks it’s cool or not. He’s constant & consistent: chocolate chip cookies must be warm from the oven, and served daily.  The smell of them warms my heart, and will always make me think of him, and count our blessings.

By S. Andersen-Moore

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Potential to Succeed

As the parent of a young college student with high-functioning Autism, I’m thankful for the dedicated special education professionals who work with a most needy and difficulty student population. My son was driven to clinical depression (1st & 3rd grades – shame on them) in a “good” neighborhood charter school.

Teachers there refused to work with IEP required therapists, or provide the modifications and accommodations required so he could succeed (I don’t do that in MY class). I found a little non-public school outside our district as no other options nearby had openings, appropriate settings, or wanted our child. I drove a 75 mile round trip – twice a day for 7 1/2 years to this little non-public school “that could”.

I am forever grateful for the owner/administrator, the teachers and aides for giving my son the chance he deserved. When he was placed, he hit, kicked, screamed, bit people and threw things (all learned at the charter school – he never had such violent outbursts at home until treated so badly). It took one full year before he realized he was “safe” and could sit and attend in class.

Once he realized it was ok to be himself, he learned and has been an A/B student ever since. He is now in a community college, takes the bus by himself and is very proud (as are his parents) of his accomplishments. He worked hard, but could not have been able to do so without those wonderful people who gave him the confidence to believe in himself.

I continue to work with other families of students with disabilities in K-12, because I believe all students have the potential to succeed if we allow them the tools to do so. My son is a sign of hope for the success of their children.

I have no idea what he’ll end up doing as a profession, but I know he’ll be happy and feel proud in whatever he accomplishes. He could not have come so far without that little non-public school.

Thank you for giving my son his future.

By Sonja L

Submitted By Ken Brzezinski

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Finding the Common Ground

Like many people, I have an Autistic child.  He’s not the highest functioning but he’s come a very long way over the years.  One of my greatest fears as a mother is not that my son will not recover.  I know that our children will.  My fear is that he recovers but because we were so focused only on recovery that we forgot to let him be a person and experience life.

When I look at my child, I see all the things that we still need to accomplish.  I know that by working through therapies and extra schooling those things will come about.  But what happens when he recovers and had no experiences that were common to his peers?  He still won’t fit in because he won’t have any common grounds of experience.

For me, this has been a big issue.  To make sure that my son experiences some things like all the other boys.  That’s really tough when your child isn’t always able to sit still or really relate to other people.  So we initially chose swimming lessons that were just him with his teacher.  As he began to swim better and better, he also made a connection with his teacher.

Then there was Boy Scouts.  Our area had a special needs troop.  That was great.  Not all the children had special needs but most did and the other boys in the troop understood because we were in the special troop.  This also meant that we weren’t as boy lead as a traditional group and that we worked on patches during meetings and those lessons were tailored to short attention spans and taught in small increments.  We camped and fished; we even competed at Camporee’s with the non-special troops, and still took home ribbons for placing in the top 3 in some events.

We really didn’t have a sport for our son.  A large group of children running around was just too overwhelming for my son.  So sports like soccer, football and basketball were definitely not a possibility for him.   Other sports were just too solitary and he’d lose his focus.  But we did find our place in a very unlikely venue.

After the 2006 Winter Olympics I talked my family and a friend into trying curling. (Yes, the sport with rocks, ice and brooms.)  We took a few classes  and we played some beginner games.  My son loved it.  It has personal aspects, you’re still part of a team, but it’s not too quick. (That’s why there are no slow motion cameras in televising curling.)

We found a connection with the other curlers who are very supportive and kind.  Unfortunately, playing times changed and we couldn’t play at that venue any more, the 5 hours round trip was just too much on a week night.  So we waited to get closer ice.

After the 2010 Winter Olympics, our city opened a new ice arena.  This gave us 3 more rinks in town.  We found other curlers and want-to-be-curlers and started a club after 2 months of intensive work to get equipment, money and ice time.  Fort Wayne now has a curling club that welcomes anyone.  We have another special needs curler in our club and a wheelchair athlete.  We curl every week on our league night.  Everyone is integrated onto teams.

My son asks to curl almost every day.  He feels safe at the rink and interacts with the club members.  He has very good curling skills and uses a delivery stick because the slide delivery doesn’t work for him yet.  He has really been the inspiration to start the club.  We are working with Special Olympics and the USCA to bring curling to all the special needs people of the United States.

For me the best thing of all is the common ground that my family has experienced through curling.  My family can do something together as a family within our community.  It’s a sport that one can play their whole life.  Curling gives my son an experience that maybe everyone here hasn’t experienced but he knows how to rely on himself and be part of a team.  He may never be an Olympian, but he experiences the joy of a good shot.

By Jerri Mead

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Patience Really Is a Virtue

As parents of a special needs child, we hear the word, “patience” every day and sometimes even more. But, have you ever really stopped to focus on just what that word means when dealing with the day-to-day struggles of caring for your special needs child?  As a father of a child with Autism, it took me quite some time to really figure out the importance of exercising patience with my son.

Lately, I have noticed when my son goes into a tantrum or outburst, instead of becoming frustrated and going from 0-60 in mere seconds…exercising patience is really, as they say, a virtue. If I step back and count to ten and calmly ask him to show me what is wrong, or show me what he needs, he will calm down much quicker and proceed to communicate with me the best way he can. I have to remember, it is just as frustrating for him to not be able to communicate with me as it is for me to be able to understand his outbursts and communication struggles.

Exercising patience aids in opening up a communication doorway and, in my opinion, strengthens the bond between you and your special someone. I believe our children have a unique and intelligent understanding of the world around them, and we, as parents, just need to be more patient to further understand what they perceive as normal, every day.

So the next time you feel frustrated or hear someone say, “be patient,” really stop and give it a try; it just may be the key to unlocking some of the mysteries behind the communication barriers with special needs children…and maybe even relieve some of the stress you deal with every day.

By Matt McLain

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: The Benefits of Using Sign Language with Special Needs Children

Traditionally, sign language is only thought of in the context of either the deaf community, or to use with children who are hearing impaired. However, today, there are multiple populations of hearing children with special needs in which sign language has proven extremely beneficial.

Some of these disabilities include Apraxia, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, speech and language delays, Down Syndrome, sensory issues, learning disabilities, medically fragile children, and varying degrees of cognitive disabilities.  Sign language is also used other developmental disabilities, as well as in children with severe behavioural challenges.

Recent research indicates multiple advantages in using sign language to help children with special needs. The overall development of speech, language, social, emotional, and academic skills can all be enhanced through the use of signing. Sign language appears to accelerate the acquisition of speech by stimulating certain areas of the brain that are associated with speech and language.

Also, signing provides overall language stimulation and conceptual information that enhances vocabulary development in children. Since many children with special needs exhibit difficulty with expressive language, sign language provides these children with access to communication while strengthening their ability to produce speech.

Sign language also increases social and emotional development in children with special needs. Signing helps to expand social opportunities, which in turn naturally enhances overall self-esteem. These children, as they develop better communication skills through signing, often become more independent. In addition, the brain makes connections through both auditory and visual input. Since children with special needs often have other impairments, that affect normal development in the brain, sign language helps these areas of the brain that are linked to the development of speech and language. Also, language is the primary building block for learning and academic development.

One of the most recent developments includes the use of sign language with children with Autism. Autism is a neurological developmental disorder which results in impairment of social skills, language development, and behaviour. Research today indicates that one of the most effective ways to teach speech to children with Autism is through the use of sign language. Signing increased the chances of children with Autism learning to hear spoken language. It provides these children with an alternative mode of communication.

It is relatively easy for parents to learn and to utilize it with their children. Since sign language is more iconic than speech, individual signs can be more easily grasped: Recent research has also discovered that sign language is most likely processed in the right hemisphere of the brain. Since children with Autism have left hemisphere brain impairment, signing may be easier for them to comprehend.

Since language is one of the primary building blocks for learning and academic development, sign language is useful for children with special needs because it stimulates intellectual development. Using signs also helps children to retain information longer because it supplements speech input. Utilizing many different modes of input strengthens the connections in the brain and therefore greatly benefits overall academic development in these children.

By Ellen Lunz

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

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