… That’s what a social worker told us very early on after Alex was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.
I don’t mean to disparage all social workers. We had another social worker, the caseworker assigned to us to oversee Alex’s whole case, who was instrumental in helping us navigate early intervention services, our first IEP meeting, and all the ins and outs of special services and special education in New York City. But our second social worker, I’ll call her “Judy”, was an elderly woman assigned to my wife and I to help us cope, as parents and spouses, with the fact that our son had been diagnosed on the spectrum. To put it mildly, she did not do much to help our situation.
When she first walked in the door of our apartment to meet Alex she had no greeting for him, rather, she took one look at him and exclaimed “At least he is appealing, that will hold him in good stead.” After commiserating with us and explaining that we could try some therapy but that we should not have false hope and he may only get worse, she dropped the bomb, off-handedly, that he would, of course, never play sports. She explained that kids on the spectrum almost always had physical development problems, strength issues, and neither the competitiveness or the social abilities to engage in team sports.
Again, this was very early on in the process, before we knew what to expect and where Alex was headed and what we could or couldn’t do about it, and I was still coming to terms with all the shattered dreams I had for Alex that I had to repress. Playing sports was one of those dreams — many of my fondest memories as a child involve scoring soccer goals, getting a winning baseball hit, playing on tennis teams, basketball…. and I was lucky enough to have a father with the time and inclination to coach many of those soccer and baseball teams, making the memories even sweeter. I can still remember, vividly, almost all of my teammates and many of my opponents and individual games and plays from as far back as 2nd grade.
I am happy to report that Alex is currently playing and excelling at both soccer and baseball, and that I am a coach for both teams. Its a hectic schedule, practices and games each week, often overlapping, and lots of emails and phone calls from parents wanting to know the schedule, or which field to go to, or to report an illness or absence. But I can’t help being reminded how far Alex has come when I see him quickly bond with new teammates, focus on the task at hand, and excel at something one social worker once told us he would never be able to do. He is not the best player on the field, although he is a first grader and playing against many second and, in some cases, third graders, but he is pretty good, and would be proud to tell you that he is batting about .750 this year on the baseball team and almost scored his first goal in soccer last week.
As a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum you will no doubt find that many professionals, like our social worker, will try to manage your expectations and present a negative view of the potential development for your child. I am not telling anybody to run away from people like this (they may still have positive things to offer), but the treatment of autism is no longer limited to therapy alone with the goal of improving behavior but not eliminating the cause. I personally know of dozens of parents, and anecdotally know of hundreds of others, who have used diet and other biomedical interventions to allow their children to rid themselves of the digestive, immunological, and other disorders which afflict them, and to fully recover from autism.