A tiny hand stroked my back this morning as I clutched a napkin from breakfast to dry my unexpected tears. Before whisking the kids off to school I thought I’d check Facebook, see what’s happening. I’d seen someone else comment on what they described as a “really inspiring” YouTube video, but I hadn’t any time to check it out before now. Today we were moving somewhat slowly, one child forgot a sweater upstairs and one child was still eating, so I decided to watch the clip of an autistic student who became a basketball star.
Before I knew it Will was consoling me as I choked back reluctant sobs. Just then Hope walked into the kitchen and stopped abruptly when she saw that I was crying.
“Why are you crying Mom?” she asked standing uncharacteristically still.
“I just saw a clip about Jason McElwain, a young student with autism,” I shared, “and I’m so happy for him.” I rambled a bit about how the student brought the players water and towels emphasizing the boy had never played with the team before this game, but that he was really passionate about the game. Without saying a word, Will kept his hand on my back listening intently to what I was saying like a wise old man.
“Mom, what’s autism?” Hope chimed in. Once she said it I realized although I was friends with a brilliant autism activist, I’d never really discussed autism with the kids, and I wasn’t sure I had the exact terminology straight in my head. Nevertheless, I jumped in leading with my heart.
“Kids with autism have brains that are wired in a unique way,” I wasn’t sure I was on the right track, but I continued, “their brain affects the way they experience the world and the way they express themselves.”
“Why couldn’t he play basketball with autism?” her questions although incredibly simple, cut to the complicated core.
“I’m not sure in this case Sweetheart, but sometimes someone with autism might not respond to an organized sport the way the rules of the game allows. I think some people with autism might not like the noise of the stadium or relate to the sequence of the game the same way as the other players. We could research it and figure it out, but that’s just from what little I know. It could be a lot of things. Not everyone can play sports for lots of reasons.”
“The boy with autism has a different brain,” she stated. And then it dawned on me.
“Yes, he does. Lots of people have different brains,” and this made her first look down at her feet, then catch my stare and smile. My daughter has a different brain, too. Her brain is wired as a girl’s brain and it is in conflict with her body. Maybe not the same way as autism, but it’s still a significant hurdle for a little person to deal with and embrace.
After watching the video I was inspired and conflicted. Obviously I was elated that Jason had the chance to play the sport he adores, and that he let his light shine out there scoring 20 points in the last 4 minutes. I loved the way he confirmed to the reporter that he was “hot as a pistol” out there on the court. My heart soared when everyone ran out on the court and cheered for him. That’s a moment everyone will remember. Everyone should have such a victory!
At the same time I felt this twinge when the reporter ended the segment saying, “he (Jason) was used to feeling different… but never this wonderful.” Jason didn’t have to score those points to be a hero. Let’s face it. He is a devoted member of that team, and that is enough right there. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Jason had this opportunity was divinely right. Perhaps it was the only way for people to properly celebrate him in such a grand way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that he didn’t have to make the baskets, but that was beautiful icing on the cake.