Taking an Autistic Child to a ballgame.
I am not sure if I mentioned it before, but both of my children have "high functioning" autism. What does this mean? My kids are different. Every parent learns about their children. Who they are. What they like. What their weaknesses are. One of the many "road blocks' that our children face when going out and experiencing different things is sensory. There are other issues as well, but sensory plays a major role. Sounds are experienced louder, lights are brighter, the world is an assault on the senses. Our kiddos have a difficult time filtering out and managing all of the world's inputs. A small example was my oldest son used to run back in the house because a leaf sliding across the side walk frightened him.
On fathers day we took our boys to the big "A" to see the Angels and the Diamondbacks. My oldest has been to a couple of games and is now alright in the atmosphere. He started with an Angels game a couple years ago, lasting 2 innings. His last game was a Dodgers game with my parents and he lasted the whole game and had the time of his life.
This was my youngest son's first real game. He was really excited. He talks about the Diamondbacks and Angels, how he wants to hit like they do. He watches on television, and tries to keep track of balls and strikes. He is more interested than his brother actually.
We got to the game and it started to look like it was going to be difficult. I may simply be an over protective parent but I am already analyzing the atmosphere looking for warning signs. First it was hot. Not bad, and normally it would be considered the perfect baseball weather. For our situation, the heat has the possibility to breed crankiness. Next, we have crowds. Again, it is to be expected but the more people their are, the more possibilities to overwhelm our kids. The typical summer ballpark experience. It was a perfect setting for a baseball game, but for our youngest it was already as much as he can handle.
We found our seats, already the second inning, and got the kids comfortable. The noise level was starting to get to our boys. The oldest tolerated it, he was watching the Diamondbacks and the Angels! He was trying to focus on who was who, he was filtering out the crowd perfectly. Such a big victory from where he started. The youngest was getting agitated, but nothing Cheez-it's can't fix.
This story has gotten much longer than I expected, so I will try to wrap it up here. The key inning came in 4th. Pujols did what the Angels would like him to do and took Ian Kennedy deep. As my youngest would later discribe, "people were TOO crazy." The crowd cheered as to be expected, and fireworks exploded "without warning", and my son was done. I looked over to see my wife holding his ears and bear hugging him.
He wanted to leave instantly. If it wasn't for my oldest, we would have. Instead I took him by the hand and we walked. Whenever we go out, my job is the "walker". I have seen every inch of our local movie theater. I have got great looks at the Staple Center halls, Chase Field, and Angel Stadium. This only worked for another inning and we had to leave. We stopped at the Team store and my sons got decked out in Angel T-Shirts and Hats. My oldest got a "rally monkey" and my youngest got a souvenir bat.
Post game wrap up
An exhausted family heads home. My oldest son had a blast, my youngest son passed out and looked like he had a miserable time.
That night I found out I was wrong. My youngest had a great time. He is begging to go back. The positives out weighed the negatives.
It leaves me with a mission. How to keep providing him with the experience he wants, but to help mitigate the sensory issues that overwhelm him?
After doing some quick research online I was surprised to find that the Mets seem to be leading the way here.
First they are considering a 'Quiet section' for families with autistic kids. I am not sure the details, but the conversation is started.
Secondly, the Mets also have a social story in PDF form to help kids to prepare for the ballgame. Teaches them in photos, and in a child friendly story, each step they will encounter before they even get there. The PDF can be found here. Originally published on the Mets website.
I am looking into other teams, but I haven't found this type of dedication as with what the Mets have provided. Thank you New York Mets, wish I lived closer to take advantage of it.