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Photo of the Day
Anything is Possible if you Dare to Dream

May 25, 2008

One picture is worth a 1,000 words. . .

Over the past three years, since our daughter (left) was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, we have struggled to come to terms with the lifelong limitations that she will face growing up and living in a society, that, until recently, thought autistic children merely sat in corners and banged their heads on the wall.

In truth, I'm usually the one banging my head on the wall out of frustration with teachers, other parents, coaches and peers, who lack even a basic understanding of what my child goes through on a day-to-day basis.

When our daughter was only two years old, we enrolled her in gymnastics to help with her coordination and when she was five she started playing soccer. I have to admit that we knew very little about autism back then and we had no idea that our child was on the spectrum. We only knew, from experience, that she had serious speech problems, poor coordination and thrived on routines.

Gymnastics and later soccer became part of her weekly routine. Three years later, one of the local coaches called and asked us to bring her to tryouts for the Academy team. At only eight years old, we thought she was a little young to be involved in a team that traveled around the metro area and played in tournaments, but we gave it a try.

Over the past four years, our daughter has stayed on the Academy team through a succession of coaches and changing teammates, which caused a great deal of confusion and a definite lack of stability.

The result, our daughter's performance in any given practice or game depended entirely on her mood that day. If she had a good day, she had a good game. She was ON. If she had a bad day, she could barely focus.

And the worst thing for us was her lack of camaraderie with her teammates. I have lots of team pictures where the entire team was gathered around one side of the bench and our daughter was sitting alone on the other end.

We used to think that our daughter was painfully shy. Now we know that she lacks the ability to socialize on her own and we try very hard to help her ease into social situations.

Our daughter's close friends know that they have to drag her into the group, but getting her to actually participate in their conversations can be tough. That's why we have invested big bucks and time in therapy and social skills training to help her recognize facial expressions, understand when someone is joking with her and learn to joke back.

This weekend it all payed off in spades. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and seeing our daughter joking, laughing and horsing around with her teammates between games at our weekend tournament was priceless.

Over the past few weeks, our daughter and her team have banded together during some really tough games and we have seen a marked improvement in her performance. She's been giving 100 percent lately, due to encouragement from her teammates and many of their parents.

They been asking what we feed her and we reply that she has jalapenos for breakfast and hot sauce for lunch and she just grins from ear-to-ear. That's really something for a child, who rarely smiled, even before she got her braces.

Still, all of this doesn't explain the jump she made to light speed this weekend and I can only chalk it up to one difference: our "new" coach.

One of our parents graciously volunteered to coach our girls during practice for the past two weeks after our regular season ended and this weekend during a holiday tournament that was not originally on our team plan.

With his encouragement and inspiration, the whole team gave 150 percent and our daughter gave her all. They lost their final game, but they never gave up, and they kept fighting to the very end. It was an absolute privilege to see the girls in such fine spirits and know in my heart that they are truly a great team.

Thanks so much Coach "Mike" for putting a smile on my daughter's face that is still there hours after her last game.

Of course she is now happily ensconced in the Wii room playing My new Wii Fit, but she's still wearing her uniform.


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