Watching Ryan play hockey has given me a lot of proud moments. The first time he attended a hockey clinic, the first time he scored a goal in a three-on-three, cross-ice, no-goalie scrimmage (and celebrated like he’d won the Stanley Cup), his first goal in a “real” game. This. This. This.
But I don’t know that I’ve ever been prouder of him than I was to take him to a simple practice Tuesday night. It’s not that he’s completely undaunted by Friday’s revelation. It’s that as much as that episode hurt him, and that was pretty obvious on Friday, he would never even think of staying away from hockey. Part of him feels like he let his teammates down by not being at Friday’s game.
This episode has brought out a lot in him. Self-awareness and self-advocacy are both awesome and important steps. But it’s more than that. There’s a new level of introspection, an ability to express not only how he thinks and acts, but to describe how others around him think and react to him. The challenges for people on the autism spectrum to think as others think are often discussed.
I’m not going to lie, hearing Ryan express how people react to him is painful. It sucks. There’s a piece of his innocence that has been shattered, never to be put fully put back together. But I also know that in this new level of awareness lies the key to forming meaningful relationships.
To do he will have to rely on abilities of observation like those on display last night as we drove home. As we have dug in and tried to figure out exactly what was said, how often and by whom, we realize that some of the remarks Ryan reported could, in different context, be considered playful kidding among teammates. It’s important to distinguish between the two, without being dismissive. When I pushed Ryan on this point, he said one of the kids called him a name that he also uses with the other kids. “But with me, it’s different,” he said.
I asked how he knew the meaning was different.
Ryan was incredulous. “Because of his tone!”
I acknowledged his answer even as I thought to myself how much progress that answer represented. Like lots of kids on the spectrum, Ryan isn’t always able to interpret non-verbal communication easily. To judge among tones in how a playful jab/intentionally hurtful remark is really something.
We had lots of “eyes” on Ryan on the ice at practice. I spoke with both coaches separately and they assured me any sort of bullying would not be tolerated. They promised to watch with a close eye and immediately address any situation that arose. Ryan reported that nothing negative was said to him on the ice or in the locker room last night.
I am confident this will be handled in the proper manner. I am so proud of my son for not retreating from the situation, but rather digging in his skates. He wants to be part of the team, he wants to play, he wants to be accepted.
Is that too much to ask?