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.