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!