What a Difference a Few Months (and a New Team) Makes

Here’s a piece I published elsewhere last November:

It happens all the time, but I’m not usually there to watch. My daughter walks up to the picnic table where her soccer teammates are chatting and laughing together. As she approaches, they move their soccer bags to cover the seats and tell her “there’s no room.” But of course, thirty seconds later “Sophie” arrives–they call out greetings and immediately move the bags to fit her in. My daughter walks past them to another picnic table, where she sits alone, pretending to watch the game before hers, holding back the tears. We’ve raised our daughter to be a team player. When she gets on the field, she passes the ball to other players, cheers for them if they do well, high-fives them (when they’ll let her), says only positive things about what they do. But they don’t reciprocate. She’s an excellent player, but when she scores, no one cheers and there are no high fives. Most of the time they won’t even pass the ball to her, but if they do, and she makes a mistake, there is no forgiveness. My daughter is autistic. Unusually, for someone with autism, she is a superb athlete and she has adored soccer since she first started playing at the age of five. Over the years she has honed her skills until she can hold her own with the very best players in the area. But that doesn’t mean that they have anything but contempt for her. Perhaps they don’t realize how remarkable her accomplishment is. People used to say about Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did, “only backwards and in high heels.” My daughter can do anything those other girls can do–only with the field dancing in front of her eyes in changing colors, and a cacophony of sounds swirling around her. Would it make any difference if they did know?

That was a very sad time for us.  But then, this spring my daughter (we’ll call her “A”) started practicing soccer with a boys team, from the same soccer club.  The guys act like teenaged guys do.  They make lots of rude jokes about body parts, farting, etc.  They goof around a lot and do silly victory dances when they score a goal.  They are loud and somewhat uncouth.  A was a little hesitant about playing with the guys, because it was a new group of potential bullies.  But once  she established herself as a good enough player, the boys simply took her in.  They sit with her, chat with her, hitch rides with her, talk to her about their dates for prom.  And best of all, they pass her the ball, praise her footwork, and cheer when she makes a goal.  This last weekend was the big spring tournament for the soccer club, and the team actually won their division championship.  A did not play very well during the tournament–she was anxious and overwhelmed by crowds and noise.   She made mistakes she wouldn’t normally make.  But the guys–unlike the girls on her past teams–forgave her and kept giving her chances.  When they eventually got their trophy, she started to walk away, thinking she hadn’t really earned a place in the victory photo.   But the guys called her back, and there she is, in the front row, smiling broadly.  What a difference from last November!

Soccer victory 2014

 

 

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