Established routines are amazing. They keep things running smoothly. They help us remember and help us work more efficiently. But breaking from your routine and trying something new can also be valuable, even when things don’t go very smoothly.
My teenage son with Autism asked if he could be on the middle school tennis team this year. Let’s just say that we survived a season that had more to teach us about life than it did about tennis.
My son isn’t new to sports. He’s been on his school track team for the last 2 seasons. Tennis was different because there were 3 different tennis teams – JV, JVA and JVB. We did what we usually do and put his JVB schedule into our family calendar. But because there were 3 different groups of tennis players doing 3 different things, we rarely had a tournament day go smoothly.
What went wrong?
– Traveling to a school with the wrong team
– Not traveling with his team
– Not understanding tournament cancellations caused by rain/weather conditions
The result: Our son wouldn’t be where we expected to pick him up. And because we weren’t familiar with the schedules for the other 2 teams, it was very difficult to find him.
Because my son is in the 8th grade and heading into high school next year, we wanted to lean on him rather than the school to solve this problem. He has a phone. We taught him to remember to bring it to school every day. He struggles to answer the question: Where are you? We showed him how to use an app called Glympse so he could send us his location in response to that question. It was a very bumpy season but instead of worrying about the tennis part, we focused on the problem solving involved in getting lost or not being where you thought you were supposed to be. These are life lessons that will serve him well.
I thought I was doing pretty well in terms of rolling with all of this chaos until we hit the last day of the season. It was supposed to be the end of the season party. It was cancelled. I think my son, my afternoon babysitter and I were all pretty exhausted from all of the scrambling that had gone on for the last 6 weeks. On this day when my son was once again stuck at school with nobody around, he took matters into his own hands. He walked home.
Walking home may not seem like a big deal but in our case it was. My son doesn’t attend the school in our neighborhood because it doesn’t have an Autism program. His school is about 7 miles from our home and you must travel along a very dangerous road. How dangerous? Let’s just say there are memorial markers from bike accidents and killed pedestrians all along this road. After figuring out what he had done, it was a mix of relief that he arrived home safely, celebration that he’s so capable, and a very strong message to never do that again!
As we head into basketball season, we’re going to have a 30 minute sit down with the coach and his case manager to figure out any details that may lead to problems like the ones we had during tennis season. And we have a few new programs we’re adding to his ABA Therapy routine that focus on problem solving that will help him in future situations like we had with tennis.
If we had never signed up for tennis, our smooth routine would have given us a false sense that things were going better than they were. This experience has opened our eyes to new things we need to teach our son. And now we’re ready to tackle these challenges together.