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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Asperger's meets soccer

I just want to say how touched Ben and I were by the amazing display of excitement over Charlie's latest achievement.  Thanks so much for all the emails, texts and FB messages full of encouragement and cheers for our little lad.  

It has been really hard writing another blog to follow the last one. 

But we did have another achievement to celebrate on Saturday.  Our eldest son, Ned, had his first game of soccer.  Like many 8 year-olds every Saturday morning this winter he will be running around a muddy football pitch chasing a ball in a pack of children trying to kick a goal.  And we will be on the sidelines appropriately rugged up and in fine voice cheering him on.

My firstborn  is a very typical 8 year old.  He loves his Wii, his computer (Minecraft) and playing backyard cricket. He also loves the engineering program 'Big, Bigger, Biggest', designing buildings (his own version of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai only taller), trains and Google maps. He has some funny little habits and ways.  He's a really nice kid but had trouble socialising with other kids his age because he could be terribly intense.  When he was younger he would design complex systems with his plastic Thomas the Tank engine train tracks.

          Ned at 4 years old. Track building became a daily occupation. This is one of the more simple designs.

One day Ned's preschool teachers took me aside to tell me of some things they had noticed about him. He was walking on his tip-toes.  He found it difficult to cope in the class without clear directions and structure. He was having trouble with his speech. We had moved just a few months prior and we had a caught an airplane to our new home. Ned was drawing the airport from our original home over and over again and the teachers were concerned.  What could it all mean?

Then someone brave said "Could he be somewhere on the 'Autism Spectrum'?

Ben and looked at each other and didn't know what to think.  I knew a bit about Autism as I had a first cousin who was truly autistic in it's most limiting  and crippling form.  He had attended a special school and could barely speak and I knew none of that fitted our Neddy.  

What we didn't know was that the Autism Spectrum is so wide that most people fit on it somewhere.

So we went visiting a few experts, a child psychologist, an OT, a speech pathologist, a paediatrician or 2. For a while we couldn't get the experts to agree.  Ned looked people in the eye and conversed with them in quite a friendly manner. He seemed to have an empathy for those around him, although he could also be very rough and had no idea of his own strength or spatial awareness.  He would have meltdowns and didn't cope with change or anything unexpected. And he was moody - going from the peaks of the most exciting highs, to the troughs of absolute despair.  All this and he was just 5 years old.

Time went on though and we didn't look for a 'label' for him.  He started Big School and we waited to see how he would go.  Finally, last year, Ned was diagnosed as having High Functioning Asperger's Syndrome.   Ned has never asked why he was seeing doctors and specialists.  We have been ready to discuss everything with him, but we're being guided by him and his own internal process.

Up until now Ned has found being in teams at school difficult and didn't really 'get' the dynamics of team sport.  He has always been challenged with his physical coordination and was a low-tone baby.  This made games hard and running and various sports did not come naturally for Ned.

Then he started hanging around with a nice group of boys at school and at lunchtime they would kick a soccer ball around.  Soon they all really got to like it and Ned started to understand how to play alongside and with others. And, now for the first time, Ned was ready to play a team sport.  

Last Saturday was the first game for the season, and the first game for the team.  We all braved the 3 degrees to watch the Under 8's game at Moss Vale.  And as my daughter says, it was spectacular!!  Ned kicked the ball, took his turn throwing it in after the ball had gone out, had time on the bench and had a seriously GREAT time!!    

So every Saturday morning for the next 3 months, come rain, shine or frost we will be found on the sidelines of football pitches around the Highlands screaming 'Go Mighty Mittagong!!!' 

....and loving it. 

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