Autism, #27 and Inviting Others In

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”       Ephesians 4:25

Written by:  Dcs. Heidi Goehmann
Reading Time:  3 minutes

Session one of learn to play hockey ended last night.  Not a huge deal in most people’s world, but in ours, it is.

Zeke desperately wanted to play hockey.  He watched his big brother play his heart out and imagined himself on the ice.  He bought his own whistle, so that he could pretend to referee the other kids playing.  He strapped on skates for an open skate and stepped out onto the ice.  He tentatively took little baby ice-skating steps.  He did great, so we thought, “Ok, Zeke, let’s do hockey!”  We bought him the shorts, and the pads, and the stick for his birthday.

The first night, we took out all the gear from our bag, along with the 20 or so other parents, all eagerly awaiting the unveiling of their tiny ice stars.  We piled on the pads.  We tightened the skates.  And then it happened…Zeke walked onto the ice.  I knew instantly that something was wrong.  Zeke hunched himself over and skated almost like he was curled up in a ball.

Heidi Blog 2016It was weird.  Then it got worse.  He started falling.  And I don’t mean he fell a couple of times.  He fell and fell and fell some more.  He was clearly struggling.  At one point he looked like a turtle stuck on his back.

I heard the snickers around me.  I glanced around and saw a couple of moms pointing and assumed the worst.  My face flamed up.  I could feel the embarrassment and then the shame rising.  I was texting with my friends, just to make it through the 50 minute lesson.

“These women, they don’t know.  How dare they laugh at Zeke!”  “There’s actual pointing going on!  I’m rageful.  “I’m just sad.  Tears are rolling down my face.  I wish this world was a better place for him.  I just want it to be so much better.”

My friends comforted me and helped me sort through the anger, the frustration, and the shame.  I realized that the equipment threw Zeke’s sensory system over the edge.  The weight of a chest pad, too right elbow pads, shin guards, and tightened skates, throw in a cold arena and slippery ice…it’s a lot for a sensory challenged kid.  Looking back I was pretty impressed that Zeke wasn’t just screaming like a banshee (not an uncommon response to sensory challenges).

I finally turned to one mom, channeled my inner Dr. Brene Brown, and made myself intensely vulnerable.  I invited someone, a stranger, into my pain.

“This is so hard for me.  He’s autistic.  I just love him so much, but the equipment is just too much for him.  And learning something new s hard.  Skating is hard.  He hates anything that’s hard and a struggle.  Don’t we all, but it’s intense for him in a way that is probably isn’t for you or me.”

She smiled, “Look at them.  They all are falling down.  They all look a bit ridiculous, trying to stay standing up!  It’s adorable.”  In an instant my fear and anger and sadness dissipated.  She pointed, not at my son, but her own, and then the myriad of skaters I failed to notice in my struggle, all trying to stay on two awkward skate blades.

I realized that, while I do think some of the mamas could have been a bit more sensitive, I had created my own place of shame.  I had wrapped myself in a blanket of embarrassment and disconnected from the reality of 30 or so little kids struggling through something new.  I only saw my own little one’s pain and frustration and wanted so badly to take it away that I made up a story and pointed my rage at those around me.

And as life will, in the next moment it became supremely ironic…I watched one coach skate over to Zeke and help him up.  He dusted him off and then proceeded to spend the rest of the lesson giving him confidence, giving him props, and an arm to hold on to when he needed his bearings.  The mom I was talking to pointed at the coach, “That’s my husband.”

I said a small prayer – Thank you, God, for people and care, and connection in this life.

Fast forward 8 weeks, hockey ended yesterday.  I stood at the side of the ice with the moms.  We laughed and talked about how far they have come.  Little tiny skaters, falling down (much less!), getting back up, and having the time of their lives.

I was so proud of my #27.  He walked off the ice.  They gave him a certificate and some pretty cool hockey cards, but I don’t think anything could mean as much as the fist bump waiting for him from that one coach.  The coach who reached out and said with everything he did, “We’re in this together buddy.  It’s hard work, but you can do it.”

One person, one mom, one coach.  One moment made a supreme difference in my life, and in my son’s life.  I’m so thankful that the Holy Spirit welled up and I was able to overcome all my assumptions and other made up stories in my head (another Brene Brown-ism).

I could have gone through all of it, frustrated and hurt, raging at those around me, but I found truth, by inviting someone in.

He can heal hidden hurts, bind up a broken heart, through kind and tender words, and through connection, one to another.

For #27 and his mama, it made all the difference.

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