In my last post, I talked a lot about insanity. Some days, raising a child on the spectrum makes a parent feel like they are going crazy. And that’s on a normal day. What about those days when you dare to try something different, like organized activities or sports? Each parent’s experience with this is bound to be as varied as our children, but by the end of the day most will say that they passed the point of insanity hours earlier.
There are very few things in life that I am exceptional at. One of them is downhill skiing. It is something that my dad infrequently but that I developed a passion for at a very young age. Like anyone learning a new skill, I had a rough start: I cried, I got discouraged and I got hurt. What I didn’t do was give up. My parents signed me up for lesson programs, which evolved to joining a race team and skiing three days a week. That love of the sport stays with me to this day and I am excited for January, when the local Thursday night adult racing program begin. I was equally determined to pass this skill along to my daughter. Nothing would stand in my way.
Looking back on it three years later, I can honestly say that our first attempt on the slopes was one of the stupidest and most selfish things I have ever done in my life. She deserved and needed so much better than I gave her on that first trip, which made the other attempts that season all the more difficult. As time machines have not yet become available at your local big box store, the best I can do is help you to avoid my mistakes.
My first mistake was a complete and total failure to prepare my daughter for the experience. Preparation for a successful ski season must begin in the fall. Most ski areas in southern Ontario have annual ski swaps, which occur anywhere between Thanksgiving weekend and the middle of November. These events are the perfect opportunity to show your child the sights and sounds of where he or she will ski. Show them around the chalet and the rental area where they will get fitted for their skis. After that, get outside and take them to see the beginner hills and lifts. Make sure you take some pictures of everything with your phone as you will need them in the weeks to come.
My second mistake was trying to teach her myself. I maybe an expert on the subject, but I, like many other parents, simply do not have the skill set or patience required to teach a child a sport. For the sake of your sanity and, more importantly, to give your child a positive learning experience, sign them up for a lesson. Shortly after the ski swap, contact the ski school at your local hill about lessons. Ensure that they have staff trained in teaching kids with intellectual disabilities how to ski and that they can handle any concerns you have that are specific to your child. Finally, pay the extra for the private lesson. This does add to the cost but in my experience the student to instructor ratio in a group setting is far too high to properly teach and keep a child with ASD safe during the lesson.
There is bound to be a gap of two months or more between their first visit to the hill in the fall and their first day on skis, which brings me to my third tip. Every so often, take out your phone and show them the pictures you took of them in the chalet and on the hill. Keep up their comfort level with the sights and sounds, but don’t do it to the point where they obsess over it. This is certainly a delicate balance, but believe me when I say it will be a disaster if you just show up at the hill on the first day without preparing your child.
Last but not least, prepare yourself for a long day. Get there early. Be happy and heap praise on your child like you have never done before. You are going to be excited when your child learns to “make pizza” for the first time but don’t forget to watch your child’s cues closely.
NJ celebrates “making pizza” while dad keeps a close watch from behind. Photo by Danielle Jutras.
I was so excited when she was starting to get it that I didn’t realize how long we had been out there. Nor did I pay attention to the obvious signs of sensory overload that resulted in a two-hour tantrum. Take that break at the right time and, if they have clearly had enough, pack it in and come back another day. Do whatever you need to do to get them out of that first day with a positive memory, which includes reminding them how well they did in the hours and days that follow.
These tips can very easily be adapted to help get you and your child involved in many sports. I cannot overstate how much I regret not taking the time and effort to adequately prepare my daughter for her first time on skis. Please, take the time to make the necessary preparations.
This post was about learning from my mistakes. Fortunately, these mistakes led us to success. Taekwondo is probably the last sport you would consider for a child with ASD. Next time, I will share with you why it should near the top of your list of potential activities.
What activities have you been successful at with your child? What would you do differently if you had the chance?