I went to a baseball game last night with some work associates – no kids, no spouse. This isn’t really something new – I’ve been to three games without my Herd this year. The difference last night was being at the Park here at home without my Herd. That’s never happened before. I had an amazing time, but it also felt a little weird.
Here’s the deal – when I’m at Petco Park, watching a game, I’m used to Little Man being there, and all the attendant stuff that comes with bringing an autistic child to a baseball game. When he’s there, we have his iPad or iPhone, ear buds, and noise cancelling headphones. We make sure before we leave the house everything is charged up completely. We feed him. We promise him snacks. We know at some point in the game, he’s likely going to need a break, which, as when we go see a movie in the theater, usually means a trip to the bathroom, a step away from all the stimulation near the field. It means we are paying attention to every pitch as he has a crazy fear of being hit by a foul ball, but not enough so he pays attention himself, his head buried in whatever technology he has, or whatever food he’s partaking. Some might ask why we bring him out into a situation we have to manage so much. There are so many reasons…..1) We selfishly refuse to let his autism keep our family from enjoying the activities we enjoy; 2) It’s kind of a form of therapy to put him in these situations; 3) He’s come an extremely long way since he was diagnosed, and we know we need to prepare him for the adult social world; 4) In his own way, he does enjoy it.
I don’t know about the ballparks where you live, but when the Padres hit a homerun at Petco, there are fireworks, fire/flames, loud music, lights flashing, and LOTS of cheering. Little Man HATES fireworks – hates the noise of them. He particularly hates the surprise of them – when they aren’t expected, as well as not knowing exactly when the “Boom!” is coming. The flashing lights freak him out. The over-the-top crowd noise after a homerun is overwhelming to him. Needless to say, he really hates when the Padres hit a homerun. I’ve gotten used to needing to grab him and wrap him up, hands holding his headphones even tighter over his ears, trying my best to keep all the stimulation to a minimum, and give him that tight space that seems to comfort him. It’s a gut reaction anymore…homerun = immediate action on my part for him.
The Padres hit two home runs last night. Both times, I jerked, ready to take care of my Little Man as usual. I quickly remembered he wasn’t there, and took a breath, just enjoying the moment, being part of the celebration rather than trying to protect my child from something that was too much for him. I don’t ever, for one single second, regret taking him out to ballgames nor any other experience we help him through. But I do have to say, it was so nice to not have to have that knee-jerk reaction, to relax and have fun along with everyone else.
I’ve realized that being an autism mom is just part of who I am anymore. As his autism doesn’t define him, being an autism mom doesn’t define me, it’s just part of who I am. The only difference is, sometimes I get to let go of that part of me. He will never have that opportunity. But I know he will learn to manage out in the world.
How we do baseball……