Kids on the spectrum generally have a hard time playing sports. Many kids may have a hard time with their gross motor skills. Some may have a hard time controlling their body and getting it to do what they want it to do. Many of these kids also have low muscle tone, which can make doing sports difficult. I have a hard time understanding what the link between autism, a neurological disorder, has to do with muscle tone. The two seem so unrelated to me. Nevertheless, they seem to be linked somehow.
My daughter was a late walker. She didn't start walking until she was over 19 months old. According to the physical therapist we were seeing, her core muscles were weak which is what caused the delay. At the time, nobody suspected autism. Everyone thought she was just a late walker due to the low muscle tone. One physical therapist told us that this will always be an issue, but if we got her involved in things like swimming, dance, or gymnastics, it can make a huge difference!
This has been the case. While my daughter is far from athletic, having her involved in things like gymnastics has definitely helped. One team sport she has played over the last three years is soccer. In the beginning, the kids weren't expected to do much, other than run around the field and learn the basics of the game. We thought she had a great chance to get some exercise and socialize with her friends. She loved playing the goalie position because it gave her an opportunity to take a break from all that running! She also had fun wrapping herself up in the soccer goal netting and pretending she was a spider. She enjoyed picking flowers too, but she didn't have to be goalie to do that!
Over time, however, the other kids started to take the game more seriously. My daughter kept insisting that soccer was her favorite sport, but she always seemed to look tortured out there on the field. She avoided the ball as much as possible and generally stayed away from where the action was at. We began to think her soccer-playing days were ending. She still kept insisting that she liked playing though.
Over this past summer, we took a break from the league. I hated soccer in the summer because the heat is so bad here! Somehow, we inadvertently missed the sign-ups for the fall league. We did manage to sign her up for this winter league. Something weird happened: The kids matured and started to play the game much more competitively! Even stranger was that my daughter improved greatly as well. While she'll never be the star of the team, she is much more engaged in the game and actively goes after the ball. I was amazed to see a play she made at a game this past Sunday. She had control of the ball and dribbled it from mid-field all the way to the end where their goalpost was. She took the ball out of bounds, but a teammate scored a goal during the next play! Awesome! I was so proud that she had such a major role in that goal! That was a first!
Here's to her future in sports! She may never be the star athlete, but seeing her out there having fun and actively participating is a beautiful sight to see!
Photo Credit: Ralph Hogaboom
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