In Their Own Words – When Going Downhill is a Good Thing…
This “In Their Own Words” is by Suzanne Lanthier, the Executive Director for Autism Speaks Canada.
When you live in Canada, there are a few things that are a ‘safe bet’. First, any news about hockey will make the first page of our national newspaper (case in point last June when the front page story of the Globe and Mail showcased the winners of the Stanley Cup – which incidentally was side by side with the latest findings in autism genetics research .. the closest Dr. Steven Scherer will ever get to a Stanley Cup!!).
Second safe bet – there will be snow.
This past weekend, Toronto got its first real winter snowfall. My 11-year old son, Scotty, loves the snow. He is mesmerized by the sight of flakes reflecting in the streetlights and can sit and watch this wonder of nature for hours. I keep telling him that if he was out there shoveling it with me, he wouldn’t think it was so fantastic but I’ll let him have his fun… for now.
Scotty’s autism coupled with his clubfoot makes skating really difficult and painful. His grasp of the rules surrounding team sports is limited at best, so hockey is not an activity that I have pushed too hard. But he’s a Canadian and with that comes the need to find an outdoor winter activity that he can embrace. Tobogganing or sledding was something up until a few years ago Scotty quite enjoyed. Until, that is, we had “crash day” – which really just amounted to a minor collision with another younger boy on our local sledding hill. But with “crash day,” Scotty’s love of tobogganing all came to a crashing halt.
From that moment on, anytime tobogganing was mentioned it was met with significant anxiety and “no sled, no sled, no sled, no crash, no crash, no crash” – red face, panic look, heart racing – you get the picture. He still really liked going to the hill and watching the other kids go down the hill and he especially enjoyed pushing his mother down on the sled (oh my aching you-know-what!!), but to get him to go down was a lost cause. Every once in a while, he’d sit on the “boat” – his word for the sled – but that was about all I could get out of him. The slightest move forward was met with him springing off the sled faster than a slapshot coming off of Crosby’s stick.
Until, that is, this past Sunday. We gave it another shot. It was late – about 5 PM – so only a few die-hards left on the hill. I put the “boat” at the top of the smallest incline and waited. It was a spectacular evening – clear, calm, not too cold. The moon (another of Scotty’s favourite things to gaze at in the sky) was out and a beautiful crescent shape. He climbed in and sat down. He saw some kids at the bottom of the hill and promptly rolled out with the same “no crash, no sled” that I’ve heard before. “Oh well, guess its not going to happen” I thought. So I sat and waited for him to push me down as per our usual routine.
Instead, after a few minutes, he got in the “boat” and said “just mom and Scotty” and down we went. It’s hard to know how to react sometimes. Do I cheer and make a big deal about it or just act ‘natural?’ I went with playing it cool. “OK,” I said, “let’s do it again.” And we did – again and again and again.
Scotty is an observer, and he could see that the other kids were going down on their own. So just when I was about to call it a night, he looked up at me from the “boat” and said “just Scotty.” Really?? I made him repeat it a few times until the tone of his voice pretty much said “Listen lady, I’m ready to go down on my own .. don’t make me think about it anymore or I won’t.”
So, down he went – just Scotty – on his own. I admit that I didn’t play it cool after that. I cheered like he scored the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He may as well have.
After a few more runs with “just Scotty” it was really getting dark and we were the only ones left on the hill. We both could have stayed all night but I had to be the ‘mom’ and call it a night.
We went back on Monday night. I got to go down once with him – just once. I may have to buy my own “boat.”
“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.