Saturday 5 May 2018

A Boy Named L.

I want to tell you a story about a boy named L.

A boy who struggles when his routines are changed. A boy who has always wanted to play a team sport but his anxiety and sensory processing difficulties have always stopped him.

Several years ago, L expressed his interest in playing rugby league. We found a club who were willing to have him as a member of one of the junior teams and joined him up.

L was ready and raring to go. He went to and participated in every single training session and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions. He'd often run off and join another team that was training but he was at the field.

But when it came time for the weekly matches, it was a completely different story. When the matches were held at the home ground, we'd be able to get L to the games and he would go and stand near field but the sheer number of people watching the game and the noise would send him into sensory overload. He'd end up retreating into himself and hiding behind one of us or he'd run off from the field.

When the matches were held at away grounds, L did not cope with the change. This wasn't where he trained so in his mind, this was not where his games where, even though he could see all his team mates at the field.

For the entire league season, L played a total of about 15 minutes on the field. We wrote social stories, we took photos of all of the away fields but nothing seemed to help him. So we stopped going to rugby league as it was too distressing for him.

Jump forward to 2018 and L expressed an interest in soccer.

After his experience with league we weren't sure how he would go but he was even more insistent that he wanted to play than he was with league. We found a club that openly said that they were special needs friendly. This time we were armed with a publication called "Autism in Sport" which has been specifically written for coaches which we've given to L's coach to read through. Both myself and Daddy superhero were well prepared that we'd possibly have to be actively involved in the training sessions and the games.

We are about 6 weeks into the current season. L has gone to and participated in most of the training sessions but he's yet to play a game. On all the previous games, his anxiety has set in about the change of field or the crowds and he's not wanted to go. From our experience with league we haven't wanted to push L out of his comfort zone.

Well that changed today.

It was a home game for both O and L, so we suggested to L that we go along to the game just to watch his team play. This he was okay with.

When we arrived at the field, his coach gave us a team shirt for L to wear. This he was not okay with. The shirt was thrown, tears were had and L retreated into himself.

Until about ten minutes into the first half when L told me "I wear shirt now?"

Sure buddy. I suggested to L that I could go onto the field with him if he wanted to play (which the coach was fine with) to which L replied "Nah, I do a self!"

And off he went. I started to follow him but he physically pushed me off the field telling me "No, I do on me owen!"

I can honestly say that my eyes were watering a little with pride as I watched him run off onto the field without either myself or Daddy. I was also honestly expecting him to run off of the field a short time later.

But nope, my little man found his bravery and joined his team mates on the field.

He did come off for short breaks and drinks of water. He came off to get his soccer socks and books put on. He chased the ball down. He did some huge kicks of the ball. He tried to stop the other team from scoring goals.

L stayed on the field, in the game, for over 20 minutes.

Keeping in mind that when he played league, he only spent a maximum of 15 minutes on the field for an entire season, 20 minutes in a single game is a huge step for L.

And when the game finished, L said "I had fun. I going to play more."

From his efforts today, I have no doubt that by the end of the current season, L will be playing full games.

Then to top his morning off, his coach awarded L the player of the match award for not only overcoming his fears to play in his first match but also for being a great team player.

Well done L, no words can ever express my love for you and just how proud I am of you. You are a little superstar!

The future is looking very bright L, very bright indeed.

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