Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
For those of you older than 35 you may recognize that as the theme song to the 80’s television show, “Cheers”. (And, you’re welcome for putting that song in your head for the rest of the day.) One of the reasons that song is in my head today is what it means in relation to community. I think we all want to belong somewhere (outside our homes) and feel welcome. Most people want a place to go where they are known, loved and accepted. A place you are seen and appreciated for you.
When my son was first diagnosed, I wasn’t part of any autism communities. I was too busy focusing on bringing Ryan back from the dark place he was receding. Not to say we weren’t going to places where other families in our same situation attended. We swapped stories, gave knowing nods and appreciated each other’s journey. We just weren’t full fledged members, per se, anywhere specific.
I came to the realization last year, that I had spent so long “mainstreaming” Ryan that I had forced him to become removed from his peer groups. He had no friends with autism. He spent no time with any one with special needs. This made me feel terrible. He was missing a big part of his life and I needed to change that quickly.
The first place we started was a special needs baseball league. I had heard of this league before and contemplated it, but at the time had given up on organized sports for Ryan. He had been in a gym class, taken horseback riding lessons, and was on a swim team–all of which ended in the same manner. He lost interest and didn’t want to go back. It would become such a behavioral stand off, I would give in. It didn’t seem worth it for he and I to fight so much. Then I met someone highly involved in the league and what she said made me sit up and pay attention. “There is no pressure to play.” She explained that it was tailor made for kids with special needs. If they were having a bad day, no worries, take them off the field or even go home.
The ‘no pressure’ attitude struck a chord in me and I was intrigued. So, we attended a registration event for the league. Arriving that day, seeing the custom field flooded with all levels of abilities, and being blinded by all the smiles, I knew this was it. Ryan seemed to acquiesce to the idea and I immediately signed on the dotted line.
It’s been a few months playing on our team, and an aspect I love is seeing my husband on the field with our little boy. My big, tough husband, college hall of famer, former professional baseball player on the field tossing the ball with his son. That alone was worth the price of admission to this league.
But truly, the best part of when we walk into the park, is hearing “Hi, Ryan” from teammates and parents, and it has a beautiful sound. The sound of acceptance. People know him, he belongs.
However, with the weather warming up, Ryan hasn’t been loving standing on the hot astroturf so much. He often asks to leave and once in a while we let him. No one cares or ‘tiffs’ in our direction. We just go, un-judged. Last week was one of those days where a few kids were having a rough go. I saw a few meltdowns, heard some crying, and watched a full fledge wrestling match between a father and son. It happens. We all have bad days, and to a person who has to deal with external (or sometimes internal) obstacles those days are especially hard. If any of those kids would have needed to leave, no one would have minded.
The best part of the ‘no pressure’ attitude is the empathy we all have for each other as parents and care givers. Though we may not walk their exact steps, we know the extra paces it takes when you have a special needs child. We know that some days you just have to throw in the towel. There will be other days you can push for results.
What we have found in this league is more than just a place we all belong, a community of friends. But just as important, it’s a place we can leave when we need to. Being able to take your uncooperative child away from a difficult situation, judgement free, is worth far more than I can explain. Having community of supporters that understands and accepts what your child may not be able to do that day, makes you “wanna go where people know, people are all the same…”