What if my Autistic kid’s video never goes viral?

The autism community is abuzz with the video circulating about the autistic teenager who scores the winning field goal for his high school football team. I’m sure you’ve seen it. If not, you can see it here. In the video,  Brick Township High School senior Anthony Starego nails a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to beat their rival Toms River High School North, 24-21. It’s amazing! It’s fantastic!

It makes me sad.

It makes me sad that an autistic kid scoring a goal in a football game makes the news. It makes me sad because what if my kid never scores a game winning goal or sings a duet with Katy Perry or plays Billy Joel’s Piano Man by age six or dances the entire Coppelia Ballet from memory? Will that be ok? Will society accept him anyway?

People want to stand up and cheer when our kids do exceptional things or in the case of Anthony Starego, do things that other kids do every day. But they are amazing and newsworthy when autistic kids do them. Why? Because they have so much more to overcome to do them. And I am not trying to take that away from them. Those kids are amazing and deserve to be recognized, but what upsets me is that not every autistic child is going to do something exceptional like those kids. What if they just live a life that is genuine and their own and autistic? And by autistic I mean different, not the norm, “unusual,” and most of all, not newsworthy.

It’s sad to say, but as I watched that video I wondered what the special education team is like at Brick Township. Are they cutting edge? Did Anthony get intensive therapies as a small child and can now mitigate high school virtually undetected? Does Brick Township do an amazing job of assimilating their disabled kids into their educational environment? Does Anthony have a lot of support? Or did Anthony’s parents have to fight to have him included? Did they have to meet with the football coach and explain their child’s disability? Does his participation in football have to be written into his IEP? Do the other kids on the team accept him? Does he have friends on the team?

I saw the interview on the Today Show and I was in tears. The parents were so humble and ecstatic for their child. I could tell the road to get there was hard. I am happy for them. They should be proud. But that moment may not come for us. Will that be ok? Will people accept him anyway?

I don’t mean to sound negative. Maybe I see things this way because my child is still so young and we are still in the trenches with his behavior. We fight every day to get him appropriate programs and services at his school. We fight the stigma associated with his behavior and feel the need to constantly tell people, including teachers, church members and total strangers, that he has autism and he isn’t trying to be bad. He has a neurological condition and even though he looks five on the outside, he has the emotional coping skills of a two year old. The way he behaves is not socially acceptable, although his appearance is. Perhaps if he scored a game-winning field goal, people would look past his behavior, but for now I have to keep trudging on.

Every night before bed, I remind him that he is worthy and perfect and that he can do whatever he wants to because I believe he can. And if all that means is that he can tolerate circle time without hitting another child tomorrow, then I am ok with that.

His accomplishments may never be newsworthy or a viral sensation on Youtube. Success for Finn is not learning to act like the other kids act. Success for Finn is acting as he is and liking himself anyway. That will be my Youtube sensation.
Author’s note: Kudos to Anthony Starego, Jodi DiPiazza, Ethan W. and Clara Bergs and their parents. You are amazing and are doing a wonderful job of reminding people that autism is not all you are! I mean no disrespect to you or your accomplishments by this blog post! 

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3 thoughts on “What if my Autistic kid’s video never goes viral?

  1. Shann…you are an amazing mom as Finn is an AMAZING child. Forget labels, forget explanations. I hate the fact that when you take your children anywhere that people look and stare and comment. Ahhh those glaring looks of disapprovals, like the way a mom gets the “look” when she has three children, 2 are skinny and one is “husky”/big-boned/chubby, etc. and mom takes her kids for an ice cream cone. It’s summer and they played all day in the ocean, collecting sea shells, digging holes, making sand castles & swimming their innocent youthful day away. That cone is well deserved but when the heavier (and might I add most physically active) child gets ostracized for eating said ice cream by another parent – its disgusting. As if that ice cream cone is the culprit or that this beautiful child (inside & out) is undeserving of that cone and that she should not get one just because of her weight – that the other two should get one and the third should be excluded. Just as disgusting as being asked to leave the varsity cheer leading squad both freshman and sophomore years in high school because the team’s coach (who was overweight in her own right) said she wanted a more “petite squad” and the rejected girl ppted to quit out of nothing more than sheer embarrassment. Shann – you are the single-most strongest person I know and you have to be for ALL of your children no matter what – autistic, tall, short, skinny, heavy, red-headed, you name it. You were raised to fight for what is right. And while your child is part of a “spectrum” it doesn’t matter what he does, he is still a child. Let him have ice cream cones, let him play in mud and dirt and if he scores the game winning football point so be it, but if not, he will still accomplish other great things in life just by being a wonderful son to you and your husband and a stellar brother and nephew and someone’s best friend and first kiss and he will have all of the benefits and experiences that every other boy has. I hate labels. Haven’t you ever gotten a present for someone and it was covered with price labels? And those labels were so hard to peel off and it would leave that sticky, gunk left and sometimes would rip and make a mess? Then your left with something that you don’t even want to give to someone any more. Labels….they can ruin even the best things. Labels can be so damaging. He is a blessing Shannon and life should be as normal as possible and trying new things is never bad. If he doesn’t like “T” – Ball, he doesn’t like it. Jus other kids. That’s how my sister in law handled it and ypu would never know her son was autistic. He ia a Senior at Camden Catholic and a joy to be in his company. In fact, I don’t even look at him as being autistic – he’s just Jimmy. So, to those who judge or glare or chose to label, they should simply look the other way if you cannot look at this sweet boy with kindness, love, and acceptance. You see, if he had a cast on his leg, people would immediately be sympathetic, offering help; but because you cannot “cast” autism, there is noicon passion toward his condition. I know that comparing an overweight child to one with autism is totally different, but it is the message of ignorance lack of true empathy, in general, that has become commonplace among our society.

    • Bern, I am utterly bawling. That was so amazing! I think your comparison of being overweight to autism is spot on! I am so sorry that happened to that girl in high school. I loved her. She grew into a strong, confident woman who can do anything! And I hear she has it all! But, then again, she always did. We are nothing if not a collection of our memories and although the people grow, the pain remains. People are so judgmental and hurtful. If I could shield that heartache for my kids in some small way, then I will feel like I have won.

      Thanks for sharing about your nephew. I can’t tell you how badly I need to hear about other kids who made it through ok. I feel like every decision I make and every bad day he has is going to stigmatize him for the rest of his life. Thank you so much for saying all of that. It was heartfelt, honest and so appreciated! You make me cry and smile at the same time! Love you!

      • Shannon… You literally just took my breath away and made me cry all over again. How’s fortunately, the only way we could ever know what a really good day is, is by having a not so good day. I wish I could say I grew up to say I have everything in life that I want, I don’t but, hopefully like you, am working on it. I do know this: you should have been a writer. You write as if you are an age wiser beyond your own years. Finn is truly tremendous. Years of working in various school systems, either as a one on one special education teacher or as an inclusion teacher or substitute for an entire class, I did pick up one thing, never ever let anyone label your child. Teachers form an opinion about your child and talk to the next teacher and it continues even through to high school. I cannot stand how insensitive teachers (of all people) can be to children that have special needs. They lack the sensitivities needed most of the time especially in focusing on how to get “light-bulb moments” with children in the spectrum. I hate when people say, “oh well he just needs to be on a schedule that will fix him…”. I was horrified when some school official said that in reference to my nephew. Ah no! First of all, he’s not broken and secondly he has a totally different set of coping and reaction and even thinking skills. But that’s ok you can be taught too. Lol. You are your child’s best and only advocate. I’ve taught my sister-in-law and cousin both the exact same thing and taught them both how to fight for the IEP. You are so ahead already and so is Finn….by being so far ahead of the game already gives your son a huge advantage….and the best part is that Finn is a better child than most other children…they have something new to teach us each and every day and shine a light on the way in which we look at our own lives and how we chose to live them.

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