At any point in time, there is a YouTube video or news segment gone viral that showcases a child with autism who sings like Sinatra, reads minds, pitches a no-hitter, or paints like Van Gogh.While these stories are poignant and memorable, they can make my job challenging when I talk about my son, James.
There is no “right” way to respond when a parent tells you their child has special needs so I try to make it easy on people. I say it matter-of-factly and give it a positive spin by saying that James has autism, he’s in a special needs school, and he’s doing really well.But, some well-meaning people who watch certain YouTube videos will take it a step further and try to make it even more positive. “I’ll bet he’s real talented at something..”
“Mmmm… not specifically… he likes lots of things..”“I’ll bet he’s really smart.”
“He’s pretty average actually.” (He’s actually “approaching average” but I’m trying to stay positive.)“Is he good at math?”
“He’s o.k.”“Does he play a musical instrument?”
“No… Honestly, his gift is that he has a beautiful spirit. His eyes literally smile.”That line seems to help stop the conversation that isn’t going anywhere.
Still, I’m left thinking about the super powers they were hoping for my sake that my son might have.It can be frustrating because while YouTube videos have set the bar very high, I often find that people in our day-to-day lives have set the bar too low.
We enrolled James in a special needs soccer program. It’s a ten-week course that he took three times. That’s 30 weeks. But, every time we started a new session, they start from scratch. He has barely kicked the ball.We signed him up for swimming. It’s been 20 weeks and he’s still swimming across the pool with the noodle.
James loves swimming and I’ve seen him try to swim when we play in the pool, so I have to believe that he’s capable of learning if they could just ratchet it up a bit.
Until now, I’ve let it slide because I was focusing on the other benefits – we get him out the door, it’s a place to go, he meets other kids. But swimming is a basic skill and a safety issue – and I really think he can do it.
I understand that if a special talent hasn’t emerged at age 8, James probably won’t be on YouTube or American Idol in his lifetime.And, in reality, I’m really aiming for James to have the low key, nondescript life that most of us get to live without our 15 minutes of fame.
I’d love to throw a little swimming in the mix. Can we aim at least that high?Mr. DeMille, can you just teach my kid to swim?