An Assist From an Old Teammate

Postgame fireworks take some of the sting out of a Devils loss for Riley (as you can sorta see in this really poor quality photograph).

Hockey has a unique scoring system, one that fits the ultimate team nature of the sport. The player who scores a goal is credited with one point. The player who passed him the puck is also credited with one point. The player who passed the puck to the player who passed the puck to the player who scores a goal? He also gets one point.

At the end of the season, the player with the most points wins a big trophy as the league’s scoring champion, and it matters not if the points came on goals, primary assists, or secondary assists.

In other words, helping out your teammates is viewed as equally important to the team’s success as actually putting the puck in the net yourself. Fitting in a sport where even the best players (other than the goalie) typically play less than half the game. Tom Brady takes every offensive snap for the Patriots. LeBron James plays all but a few minutes of each game for the Heat. But Sidney Crosby? He plays every third or fourth shift.

It takes an entire team to succeed in hockey, and you never know where the contributions are going to come from.

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child, and that is particularly true when that child has special needs. Kids on the spectrum benefit from the caring of parents, siblings and loved ones, sure. But they also benefit from the efforts of teachers, aides and therapists. It has been our experience that you never know where the guidance and assistance to solve a particular issue will come from.

Sunday night we attended the Devils game against Winnipeg. We normally don’t go to games on school nights — playoffs and other special occasions excepted. Riley is fine staying up a bit late, but it throws Ryan’s already delicate sleep schedule out of whack. Worse, his anxiety over being up late ruins the experience for him. This game had a special 5 p.m. start time, so we thought we’d be OK. There was just one catch: The early start time was to accommodate a postgame fireworks show outside the arena.

Riley was beyond excited. Ryan was all kinds of anxious. Fireworks are one of those dividing line activities that serve to make the differences between Ryan and most kids more obvious. The noise doesn’t bother him — the waiting does. A few years ago, I held Ryan tightly as anxiety gripped him while we waited for the town fireworks show on July 4. I fought tears as I looked around at hundreds of kids laughing, running, playing — joyous in their anticipation — and then looked down at my son, angry, upset and miserable.

If we can get him to the start of a fireworks show, he does enjoy them. If it was a matter of him having sensory issues with the noise, I would never take him near a fireworks show, but this is all about waiting.

Back to Sunday. As Riley reminded us how excited she was for the fireworks, Ryan was showing signs that the anxiety was taking a toll. He asked dozens of times how long we would have to wait after the game, how long the show would last, whether we would hit extra traffic, what time we would be home. He bit his nails nervously. His tic was frequent. He sat quietly at the game and didn’t appear to enjoy himself.

Veronica was exchanging texts with Ryan’s elementary school aide, the fabulous Ms. K, who was with him for four years and knows him as well as anyone other than his immediate family. Ms. K has tickets near us and we often see her at games, where Ryan will shyly tell her how he is doing in middle school. Veronica mentioned Ryan’s anxiety over being out late in a text. The next thing we knew, Ms. K was standing next to our seats during the intermission, motioning for Ryan to come talk to her.

Ryan shuffled into the aisle and nodded as she spoke into his ear. He said she told him not to worry about the time, and the message sunk in more than it did coming from us.

His anxiety didn’t disappear, but it lessened enough to get through the rest of the game without incident. Thankfully, the fireworks show began before we even got outside and was over within 10 minutes, removing whatever worry remained.

Riley got to see her fireworks, and we got Ryan to bed at a normal hour without major incident.

All thanks to an assist from an old teammate, Ms. K. — one that was as valuable as any goal.


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