Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


I did something this year that rests uncomfortably.  I withheld information about one of my kids.  My 7 year old is high functioning autistic, and this year he began to mainstream into the general education population…and into sports, which he loves.  And I was faced with the dilemma of how to present him to the world at large, having lost the safety of his insulated, special ed world.

He’s never played organized sports before this year, and after a summer round of T-ball, he was chomping at the bit to play some more. His two older brothers play in different leagues almost year round and Fall Ball, I was told was a good time to be brand new at it.  So I signed him up, with every intention of mentioning quietly to his coach that he has some special needs, and we weren’t sure how they would present themselves in this kind of setting (if at all.)

And yet, somehow, the first practice came and went…with my silence. I would write him an email, I reasoned. Let him get to know the child first. That way he wouldn’t be prejudiced by any preconceived ideas about a special needs child.

That first practice seemed to go really well, and I found my jaw still strangely locked shut. He played the first game and his skill level was on par with a couple of the other boys who had never played much before. Maybe I’ll just let him play I thought. Maybe I would only be labeling him for no reason.  Maybe he’ll surprise us all and show a talent for it.  He hadn’t been awful at T-Ball, who knew how this would go.  He seems a little quirky, but hey, some kids just have more personality than others.

Well, we’re halfway through the season now and I’m trapped by my own silence. If I mention it now, will I seem to have perpetrated a fraud on these coaches?  He hasn’t lit up the Little League baseball world with his extraordinary skills, despite obsessively watching it and talking about it 24 hours a day. I also imagine that some people have caught on to the fact that he’s just a little bit different than the other boys he plays with. Have there been discussions about it between the coaches or the other parents?  Have they caught on and think I’m in denial? Do they know and respect this as a deliberate choice not to differentiate him? Do they know and think I should have said something?

I am left questioning my own unplanned response. What was the origin of my silence here? Was it the germ of my own hope that he is so borderline that he will outgrow the autism someday? Was it my desire for him to have a normal experience like all the other boys? Was it my own refusal to accept that his experience will take him outside the most well-travelled pathways.

Another question is was I particularly influenced by the testosterone, the strongly male-dominated environment? Did I trust these men a little, or even a lot less to withhold judgement and to see his uniqueness in terms of opportunity for everyone rather than a weakness they would be uncomfortable around?

I guess it was all those things. I still don’t any better what the right decision was, and I don’t know what I will do in the future. I don’t know what decision other parents in this situation make.  It’s hard when the lines are blurred.

At the end, I have no road map for this. I only know I will face it again and again in the coming years. Do I define him or let him define himself. And if I do need to define his challenges, what will dictate that decision?

In the meantime,  I root for him every minute to develop enough skills to let him feel some sense of capability and play the game he loves…and I question the causes of my own silence.  And I hope I am making the kind of judgements he needs me to make. But mostly, I hope he gets to play ball…or do anything else that he loves his whole life.

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3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Olivia

    You did the right thing. Go with your instincts and feelings that you as his mother are blessed with. When and if the time comes that you need to explain a difficulty, you will know that you need to and you will be surprised how understanding and accepting people are, and how many people have a friend or loved one on the ASD spectrum. Keep up the amazing job you are doing :) xxx

    November 12th, 2010

  2. admin

    Thanks Liv!

    November 13th, 2010

  3. Colonial Boy

    When I was a child, we either had less of this around or, more likely, we just accepted that some kids were different to others- that we were ALL different from one another to varying degrees. If he’s good enough to play, he’ll play. If he’s not, then the coach will refuse him leave to join in. Either way, his status need not be a part of the decision- but simply rather “can he or can’t he?” Your silence simply means that he will rise or fall based on talents and abilities he brings in himself, not because he happens to be wearing a particular tag. As hard as it may be, this is part of his growing up- a part he must do for himself. Great site too, by the way.

    December 13th, 2010

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