And now, just to shake things up a bit, a guest post from a dear friend of mine also parenting an ausome kid on the spectrum. Please enjoy this post from the lovely and talented Lady Mary:
“Yeah, sign him up” they said.
“It will be good for him” they said.
To be fair, it was my idea. My four-year-old son was finishing an intensive occupational therapy course at our local children’s hospital when his therapist told me she would like Pete to take a break from OT. We’ve done this before. We take a break from OT, and I, in turn, feel like a mama bird pushing her baby bird out of the nest to go and try his newfound skills on the world. But this time…this time I decided we were going to try something different. We were going to try an organized youth sporting activity (queue suspenseful music).
I know. I can literally hear you rolling your eyes at my naiveté. But when I mentioned to my son’s therapist that I found a “Ninja Obstacle Course Class” at a community center near our house, she immediately gave us the green light. “Yeah, sign him up” she said. “It will be good for him” she said. Famous last words… So I did. I signed him up. My little mini tornado was about to become a “mini ninja”.
I’ve been to this community center before. I signed my son up for gymnastics when he was three years old. Spoiler alert: Enrolling your autistic preschooler in a group class like gymnastics, which requires a lot of physical coordination, following of instructions, and an overall understanding of how to participate in a group setting, will result in equal parts of hilarity and frustration. Bottom line, I thought I knew what I was getting into. Pete was four now, he was potty trained (mostly), and going to school regularly (I say regularly because we’ve been kicked out of preschool before. Funny story! I’ll tell you that one another time.) So you can imagine my surprise when we arrived on the first day of ninja class to a sight that sent my neurotypical brain into overdrive. What they failed to mention in the online description of the “Ninja Obstacle Course Class” is that several classes, let’s say four or five, were happening simultaneously in the same basketball gym, with the same equipment. I stood there and watched these classes weave around each other, as the kids of various ages tried to stay with their instructor. Oh, and because we didn’t have enough going on at the same time, there was also loud music going in the back ground.
But we stayed. My son seemed excited and was doing his usual happy stimming of running in place on his tiptoes. I call it “The Flash Dance.” Eventually his instructor came over to the bleachers and called for all the “mini ninjas” to follow her. As I walked my son over to meet his new instructor, I realized no one here knew that my son was autistic. Pete doesn’t present as NT, and like so many others, we get the “but he doesn’t look autistic” comments a lot. So do I say something to this woman? I’ve never met her. I have no idea what her experience is with autistic children. Do I make a big deal about this and announce to the world that my son is autistic? … Ultimately, I said nothing. I handed him off to the instructor, whose name I still do not know, and my son went happily on his way.
I wish I could tell you that ninja training was a success. I wish I could tell you that my small child is now a tiny assassin. But alas, no. My mini ninja was distracted, over stimulated, and constantly running away (Hello elopement issues! Where ya been old friend!). When that first night’s session was over I felt truly defeated, and was all too happy to get Pete’s shoes back on him and head to the car. That’s when he turned to me and said “What a fun day at ninja class!” And suddenly, it all became clear. He hadn’t noticed anything was wrong. He was just happy to be there, jumping around on mats in a basketball gym with other kids his age. He didn’t care that he couldn’t do all the jumps or kicks perfectly. He didn’t care that this program wasn’t meticulously planned for his skill sets or limitations. He didn’t care. He was just happy to be there and to be included. At that moment, I knew I had made the right choice. The majority of Pete’s life is spent in settings where his energy is measured and controlled. Whether it be in therapy or at school or even within the confines of our own home, Pete is constantly being assessed and asked to learn things that are hard and unusual. Does it take him two hours to decompress after ninja class? Sure. Are the instructors constantly confused by his behavior? ABSOLUTELY! But informing every person that comes in contact with Pete about his autism, is not my burden to bear. Nor is it my son’s.
So we continue to go to ninja class. Every week. Pete jumps around like the mini tornado ninja that he is. And everyone is none the wiser…