September 29, 2010

Blades of Glory

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 6:21 am by autismmommytherapist

The doors of the Hockey Palace whoosh shut behind us as Justin and I slowly descend the stairs to the rink below, me clutching his hand tightly, my son with a death grip on the banister as several eager boys rush past us. I can tell he is both excited and confused by my choice of outing, not yet sure what to make of the transition from the humid air outdoors to the frigid climes (okay, I’m exaggerating) of our town’s sole venue for ice skating. In the last six months I’ve cajoled one kid to mount a horse, another to kick a soccer ball, and both to attempt to ride the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m ready for a new challenge, and putting my autistic seven-year-old in shoes with blades, the one who still lacks body awareness and is tentative about climbing stairs, seems to be the next obvious choice in our quest for athletic greatness.

This is not the first time I’ve questioned my sanity.

I’ve been told that Justin needs no prior experience to participate in the Challenger Hockey Program, and since I’ve been letting the skating lessons slide in lieu of ABA and speech therapy, I was grateful for that news. We’ve never been on the ice together before, in part because we just haven’t had the time, and in part because despite two years of lessons and my all-consuming desire to be Dorothy Hamill (yes, I’m that old), I still can barely keep myself upright on frozen water. At this point Justin is more than half my weight, and I’m not even certain I could support him if I gave up the skates and wore my running shoes. To date, I haven’t been brave enough to find out, and the great thing is, with all the volunteers involved in this program, I won’t have to.

Eventually we make it down to the fairly controlled chaos of the boys’ locker room, where about ten special needs kids are patiently waiting for approximately twenty neurotypical buddies to outfit them for the sport. The coach, whom I’ve met before on several occasions when I didn’t look quite so tired, quickly assigns two pre-teen boys the enormous task of sorting through a giant pile of helmets, knee pads, and ice skates so that my son will be protected. Our helpers bound over, say “Hi Justin!”, solicit high-fives from him, and start grilling me on shoe sizes and head width, running back and forth with different options, remaining cheerful even when a piece of equipment comes up woefully short. These boys know their stuff, and as I struggle to remember Justin’s new shoe size, I tell myself to keep my wits about me.

Apparently, hockey is serious business. And I thought being a soccer mom was intense.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really have high hopes this is going to work out for Justin, as I’m not even sure he’ll tolerate wearing something without flat soles, much less the daunting prospect of helmet with chin guard and multiple flaps I’m certain I’ll never disentangle correctly. Over the years I’ve developed a philosophy with the kids that we try everything once, and if we survive the experience and there’s even one moment of joy (theirs, not mine) involved, we’ll stick with it. I’ve also given myself the out that if either child hates the activity, we’ll move on to something hopefully a bit less tortuous. After all, my mom let me out of ballet lessons when I figured out I was the only girl after two months who still couldn’t lie on her stomach and put her feet on her head. I owe my own offspring just as much kindness.

For the next twenty-five minutes, and that is a long time in autismworld, our two new friends work diligently to complete Justin’s outfit. Elbow pads are found, the correct helmet size discovered, the fourth pair of ice skates is the charm. Justin even permits our assistants to remove the head gear twice when we figured out the body armor needed to be applied first, which in and of itself, is a miracle. He only tries to make a break for it twice, but sits down quickly when I tell him we have to wait, consuming two juice boxes which I’m terrified will mean the removal of all the accoutrement if he has to pee. Hell, it took almost half an hour just to get him outfitted, I’ll be damned if this kid won’t at least make it out to the ice once.

Finally, we’re done, and although he keeps slipping off the gloves, which frankly is something he does all winter anyway, he’s ready to go. One of the boys gets on one side of him, I take the other, and together we half carry, half push him to the entrance of the rink. Justin is looking less than enthusiastic about the experience but complies, and before I know it, he is through the door, seated in a chair, and has his own personal chauffeur, a teen-ager far more adept on ice than I’ve ever been, whisking my son around our rented oval like he’s been doing it all his life.

I realize, all I have to do is watch. If I had a frappacino, the moment would be perfect.

There are just so few opportunities when I’m with the kids that I’m not completely “on”, that I’m grateful to be able to simply wipe off a patch of ice and watch my son get whipped around, happy to be able to take in the entire picture of what is transpiring today. I watch, and see a dozen kids in motion, children with all kinds of disabilities, both physical and neurological. Some, like my son, are in the “chair stage”, being pushed around like emperors in their own personal thrones. Several others are holding on to walkers for dear life, escorted by young men clearly enthusiastic to be here at what must be the crack of dawn for them this Sunday morning. A few more experienced lads are actually shuffling slowly on the ice, gaining and losing purchase on the slippery surface, having a ball even as gravity betrays them and they tumble forward. There are over two dozen volunteers here today. They are all teens or pre-teens. They’re here because they love the sport, and because they want to help. I don’t get emotional very often these days, but I feel my eyes welling up, completely charmed by watching adolescent boys thrilled to help my son, and in most cases, other complete strangers, try to participate in a team sport.

And no, I’m not PMS.

Within ten minutes Justin has houdinied off his skates, gloves, elbow pads, and managed to shimmy off a shin guard wrapped around his limb with what appeared to be industrial-strength masking tape. He is clearly unhappy with the situation, and soon he and a half-platoon of boys trying desperately to make him smile have deposited him back at the exit, looking to me for help, hoping I’ll solve the problem. I know I can’t, and that unlike the horses, this won’t be Justin’s thing.

And although I haven’t discovered a new love for my son, I can’t help but walk away exhilarated by what I’ve seen, by the ramifications of today. Without doubt, at least in this town, it is a kinder, gentler world out there for kids with differences. He has more options for fun than he would have had twenty, even ten years ago. People, children, pre-teen boys, actually want to help him participate in their world.

Somebody gives a damn, and I even got ten minutes of “me time”.

As we head back to the locker room where the sweet manager hugs my son and tells me no matter what, we’re welcome here any time, I know today, in his own way, Justin already scored.

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6 Comments »

  1. misifusa said,

    Another teary one Kim. Teenagers are awesome aren’t they? Score one for everyone, on all levels. Glad he tried it and had the experience of skating, even for a few minutes.

  2. LZ said,

    Somebody gives a damn…it makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

    PS–I still can’t skate worth a hoot either…I think growing up on pond ice, with all it’s bumps and lumps, made flat ice too foreign for me!

  3. Shivon said,

    *crying* just beautiful Kim


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