I like to joke that summer in Washington doesn’t really start until the end of September, and the weather on the first day of cross country practice definitely supported my claims. It was perfectly sunny and too hot to be running!
At 2 inches shy of 4 feet tall and a whopping 55 pounds, the boy is not average size for his kindergarten class. So we knew he would blend in OK with the second- and third-graders he was teamed with at cross country practice. Also, if chasing his stimming and wandering little big self down aisle after aisle at Walmart was any indication of his speed, let’s just say we didn’t think that keeping up with anyone would be an issue either!
The boy met his coaches, who were already briefed on the boy and his needs. He was even given a scholarship to join and placed with more mature boys to help sort out any social conflicts. I was impressed immediately by the care the boy’s coaches put forth.
For this first run, the boy was assigned a parent volunteer named Matt. He was to run with the boy that day and pace him in case he fell behind. There were no tics or hangups that practice, and the boy showed up somewhere in the middle of the pack — 2 miles later. I was really proud! His parent volunteer tried to praise him but, in true aspie fashion the boy avoided the compliments with a quick,”OK, bye!” and we were on our way.
Practices were Tuesdays and Wednesdays for about an hour and a half, so this took up a substantial time slot for us. The boy thrives when a solid routine is in place, so I was thankful for this consistent addition to the schedule. I even mentioned to our occupational therapist (OT) that we were participating in cross country, and her feedback was very positive.
Running provides a lot of deep pressure on the joints, which is comforting to an individual with sensory processing disorder (SPD). This form of exercise also produces a lot of those great “happy brain chemicals” in large bursts — this is a really good thing!
I think our biggest reason for choosing this sport in particular is that it allowed the boy to concentrate on individual and team-based goals. He struggles so much with social and sensory “stuff” that we knew a contact sport would never work for him right now. God forbid he tics and misses an important pass, throw, goal, kick and then has to deal with the social consequences! Or gets overwhelmed by rules being broken or feelings of unjust practices.
What if he is bullied or left out? No thanks! Not quite ready to tackle that one yet! This should be fun only right now, right? But running really allowed him to shine because he was goal setting to beat his best and could share that with his teammates. So this turned into something more than just fun…
Practices were going well for about two weeks when the tics started to compound one on top of the other. At this point, I volunteered to run each practice (I am still sore from this decision). I was able to pace mid pack and the boy’s volunteer who was only supposed to pace the boy on day one still never left his mark — right at the boy’s side.
I know without a doubt it had to be so frustrating to stay with the boy who went from this speeding hare to a ticcing little turtle. Sometimes it was only feet at a time that we traveled, before we all stopped dead in our tracks to adjust so the boy could tic and then pick his pace back up again. We didn’t talk much other than to encourage the boy to keep going. And he did keep going. No matter what. Every single practice.
We never finished with the other kids again. In fact, we were often a full 10 minutes behind when we finally got to the end.They clapped for us at the finish no matter how long it took. Sometimes, we would all stick around for a cool down game of freeze tag to keep the muscles moving that little bit longer.
The boy’s coach must have noticed that he was having a hard time keeping up with the game and came up with the funniest solution. He yells, “Rule change! The boy is IT, and he can freeze anyone. You stay frozen until he tags everyone!” This made the game so much easier on the boy, and he smiled the entire time. The other kids all joked to see who could freeze in a better position. I give props to handstand boy — that takes talent!
The last meet for cross country was last Sunday, and I am sad to see it go. On our way from the parking lot walking with a crowd of parents and students ready to race, and among coaches and staff from nine or more other schools, the boy is spotted. I hear a friendly voice shout his name and stop to say a quick, hi.
Then it happened! I witnessed my boy stop, make eye contact and say to this nice man,”Thank you for staying by my side and never leaving me Matt.”
Needless to say, I cannot wait to be sore from running as a parent volunteer with these kids next season!
Coming soon: I will be hosting two giveaways, so please share the blog and Facebook page with your friends, family members or anyone whose life is touched by a child with special needs! You don’t want to miss this great giveaway!