My 8-year-old daughter has autism. It’s two days before sports day at my daughter’s school and gym lessons are all about practicing for hurdles, sprinting and egg and spoon races. The children are excited, eager and raring to go…all except one child who finds any sport a challenge.
She is small, quiet, slow at running and finds balance and jumping difficult. She has fallen too often and takes longer to master even the most basic of physical skills. Everyone in her class knows this but today it seems even more obvious.
The class is divided into teams to practice the skills. Although no mention of competing, timing or winning is even said the children somehow know this is practice for the big day when trophies and awards are given out. The teacher numbers the children and sends them to their respective areas.
And then it happens.
“Miss can I swap groups?”
“Does she have to be on our team?”
“It’s not fair we always have her!”
“That’s it! I’m not taking part if she’s on my team!”
And as that one child walked off, refusing to take part in the lesson simply because my autistic daughter was on her team.
My 8-year-old won’t tell me how she felt about that but I can imagine. As her mum I want to cry. My daughter may struggle with social awareness at times but even she totally understood she was not welcome or wanted and she knew exactly why.
She knows she is different from her peers. She knows her physical skills are delayed and that she often needs adult help to participate, yet every week she tries her best. But how much can one child take?
What would you do if you knew no-one in your class wanted you on their team?
Naomi ignored them. She carried on as if nothing had happened while the other child sat and watched. She needed assistance at the hurdles and at anything related to using balls but then as the teams moved around activities the teacher noticed something very special.
When Naomi’s team came to sprinting they were a child short on her team. The child who finds running hard took it upon herself to not only run for herself but also on behalf of the very child who had refused to join in because she did not wish to be on a team with my autistic daughter! The teacher cheered her as she pushed herself to not only run twice for her team but also do several other tasks twice over because her team was a child down.
There was no race to win today. There were no prizes. The actual sports day is not for another two days yet. However, when I collected my daughter today her teacher called me back to speak to me.
She never told me about the child who refused to join in because my daughter was on her team. Instead, she told me how proud she was of my 8-year-old who excelled on so many levels.
It was my daughter who told me what happened with the other children and how one girl refused to join in because Naomi was on her team.
“How silly was that, mum! She thought she had no chance of winning because I am slower than others but you will never win anything unless you try.”
My daughter proved she is much greater at sports than anyone realized. She showed sportsmanship, team work and resilience beyond her years. What she lacks in physical ability she made up for in strength of character.
Too often we look down on others because they seem weaker or less able.
At bedtime tonight my daughter summed up her day like this:
“It was good mum! I tried my best and did extra when I could to help. That makes me a winner…right?”
Yes. Yes it does.
Sometimes the hardest lessons in life show us what we are truly made of.
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