Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fathers, Sports, and Asperger's Syndrome

Old photo, but showing Caleb when he's most happy...surrounded by reptiles (yes, that's a snake on his wrist!).

On my son, Caleb's, bed sits a multi-colored, sports-themed quilt covered with basketball hoops, football helmets, and baseball caps.  To anyone who knows Caleb well, this choice in bedding seems odd.

Let me explain.

We purchased this quilt for Caleb when he was two-years-old and ready for a "big boy" bed as a brand-new brother needed his spot in the crib.  When I shopped for bedding, I searched for something that was appropriate for a toddler but would still fit in years to come for a tween.  A sports-themed comforter seemed ideal.  I certainly envisioned that our son's childhood would match the motif of the quilt with years spent at the ballpark or on the football field.

When Caleb was four-years-old, we placed him on his first sports team, a little league t-ball team.  We eagerly purchased a ball glove and escorted him to practice.  It quickly became apparent that Caleb and t-ball would not mesh well.  I vividly remember my efforts to coax him out to the practice field being met with defiance and tears (by both of us).

We chalked up the t-ball experience as "not a good fit."   Maybe baseball wasn't his thing, we assured one another.  There's many more sports out there, we agreed.  So we began a journey to find just the right sports fit for our son.  That odyssey veered from the t-ball field to the fencing court with little to no success along the way.  Finally, just this year, we've succumb to the fact that Caleb and sports may never harmoniously align.  Caleb is ten-year-old.  It took us eight years to come to peace with this fact and possibly no one took it harder than my husband.

Let me explain again.

Caleb has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.  With his many gifts come challenges and perhaps no activity has appeared as difficult as sports.

This morning, my husband called from work gushing about an article he just read: "How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal with Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood."  This candidly written essay discusses a reporter's journey to accept and understand his son's Asperger's Syndrome.

The author's journey with Asperger's Syndrome certainly mirrors our own experiences with our son.   Certainly the author's son  shares similar traits with our Aspie: tendency to monologue, narrow interests, social awkwardness, lack of empathy, and more.  

When the author discussed his son's challenges with sports, tears welled in my eyes.  He said, "Fathers and sons don't always know how to talk to each other, which is why we have sports."  For my husband, maybe his disappointment about not seeing his son perched in the outfield or darting around a basketball court has little to do with sports, and more to do about connections.  If my husband wasn't finding those connections on the sports field, where else could they be found?  

In the article, the author talked about finding a connection with his son on trips to historical destinations.  And so my husband has done the same.  He's escorted Caleb to museums and libraries while other fathers are spending time with their sons on the sports fields. 

When I asked my husband why he liked the article so much, he replied, "It reminds me to appreciate the son we have and not the one I thought he would be."  And so went the conclusion of the article as the author completes the piece calling his son: not the idealized son, but the ideal son.  

Today, I glanced at my son's sports-themed bedspread.  I decided it was time to purchase new bedding.  It was time for something new.   Something better.

Check out: "How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal with Love, Guilt, and Fatherhood" by Ron Fournier.

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