Should Jake Play Basketball?

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I’m really struggling with this one, and since I have a place to put my thoughts down, let’s go. 

The gap is closing between what Jake can do and what his peers can do.  Simultaneously, it’s getting bigger by the minute.  

Jake wants to play basketball.  We had started some talk about him joining a unified team in a nearby town where neurotypical kids would play along side kids with needs.  This seemed like the perfect compromise, but the more I think about it, it’s not going to work.  Jake doesn’t want to play for some other team in some other town.  He wants to put on a Wolverines jersey and play in his high school in front of his town.  He wants to be part of something.  He wants to succeed.  He wants to be the hero that makes the three-pointers and go to the tournaments in Bangor.  

I don’t think what he wants is possible.  

Here’s the problem.  He thinks he can play basketball based on bad information.  He’s a pretty good shot when he’s playing knock-out in the driveway or during gym class.  He spends much of his PE time working on making half court shots.  He’s pretty darn good at NBA 2k15 on Wii U.  None of this translates into actual skill or ability on the hardwood.  Jake has never played a corporate game of basketball in his life.  He’s never done a team sport.  He’s never done peewees or rec ball.  When he was age-appropriate for these things, he wasn’t developmentally able.  He lacks the discipline needed for practices.  He gets nervous when people watch him.  He simply lacks the basic understanding of how to play the game, and I wonder if he can pick it up.  

So, the crux of the problem – let him try out or not?  In thinking long and hard about my thinking, I have to ask out loud if I’m more worried about my own feelings or his.  Will he be more embarrassed when he can’t keep up with the rest of the team, or will I?  Our town (and high school) is pretty small, and Jake is a generally beloved kid.  He may make the team based solely on the fact that 1) he’s a good kid, 2) nobody wants to be pegged as discriminating against the autistic kid, and 3) he’s my son.  

Scenario 1: Jake tries out and doesn’t make the team.  

Scenario 2: Jake tries out, and because he’s Jake and the coach feels compassion, he makes the team, but never gets off the bench.  

Scenario 3: Jake tries out, makes the team, and gets put in only if and when the team is 30 points up and makes a fool out of himself, gets crushed, and gets turned off to all sports and new things.

Scenario 4: Jake tries out, makes the team, does really well against all odds, and feels the deep satisfaction that comes from overcoming your fears and realizing your potential. 

Or, more selfishly, Scenario 3a: Jake makes the team, embarrasses himself, and I feel the stares of the crowd as people roll their eyes at me for allowing him to be in a position to fail so publicly.    

Which is best case scenario?  Which is worst? 

Will it be enough for him to join a team, practice with peers, work hard toward a common goal, and suit-up with his compatriots on the bench?  I don’t know.  Furthermore, are these feelings every parent has every time their kid does something they can’t control, and I’m just overthinking it because Jake’s my baby and isn’t “normal”?  Every time any of my kids are on stage, whether to sing, play an instrument, do a back flip, or deliver a line in a play, my palms get sweaty and I hold my breath until they’re “safe” again.  Doesn’t every dad?  The difference is that our NT kids recognize that failure is part of the process, that you can’t win them all, and that in every competition, one team loses. 

I tried to get him to consider asking to be manager of the team.  He’d get to attend practices and join his team on the bench.  He’s not interested.  We asked him to consider his commitment to the pep band.  He says the boys that play basketball only play their instruments during girls’ games.  No biggie.  I’m not sure Jake can handle it.  I’m honestly not sure I can handle Jake not handling it.  Which again begs the question, am I being selfish or protective?  Or both?  

We’re having a similar problem with the handful of his peers that are starting to get their driving permits.  We can at least use the argument that kids become ready to drive at different ages, and that he’s just not there yet.  I can’t put off him trying out for high school ball until he’s 25.  

It’s September now, which means this is going to have to be determined pretty soon.  Do I tell him he’s just not good enough, or let “life” do it for me?  Makes me sick just thinking about it.  What do I do? 

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    • Anonymous on September 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm
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    I’d say let him try out. He’s got a dream and a passion to reach for that dream (of all people why should dad hold you back from your dreams). It’s okay if he fails. Failure is a part of life, right? Sometimes we can fail really bad… and I mean bad. That’s also okay because the most important part of the process is learning about yourself. That’s what your son will gain in the end, an education, regardless of the outcome. What I’m getting at is this could be an experience that shapes your son into the person he will be in the future (your fear is that he will not be the person you hope for him to be). If he can’t even make his own decisions about what he’s passionate about, then what is the point of dreaming? By all means, let the coaches know that skill and potential should be the only factors in landing him a spot on the team and no special treatment should be taken on this individual with disability.

    1. That’s great advice, thank you. We’ve decided to go for it. I still fear that he’s not emotionally/cognitively able to learn those lessons about himself – but we’re going to try. My more recent post spoke to some of this.

    • Susan Baker on September 17, 2017 at 9:30 pm
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    Hi Ryan, I think Jake should try out. I dont know his abilities except for what I have read your posts, but it doesnt matter, he wants to give it a try. If he doesnt make it , at least he gave it his best. Again, I dont know if Jake will look at it that way, but he needs to know that life can be tough (maybe he knows this already) but at least he can maybe be proud of his effort. It just seems to me that if you dont let him try out, he might think you dont have any confidence/hope in him and that might be far worse than the outcome of the try outs. Good luck, go with your gut! Susan

    1. Amen

    • Anonymous on September 17, 2017 at 7:07 pm
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    I agree that he should be allowed to try if he wants to. But I think you really need to talk to him about the real possibility of not making Varsity the first year or going to the championship. He needs to know, this isn’t middleschool. Not everyone makes the team. I really would like to see him succeed at this. Have you talked to Monty? What about rules inregards to wearing headphones? I think I would start with Monty.

    1. He doesn’t really wear headphones any more. Monty is aware of my desire to try a unified team, but that isn’t what Jake wants. Jake has himself told Kevin of his intentions. He says Kevin is on board. Jake wouldn’t be the first kid with needs to play ball. And yes, helping him understand that he will very likely not get to play in the tourney is a part of the teaching process. For sure.

    • Anonymous on September 17, 2017 at 4:19 pm
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    Ryan ;I too was faced with these decisions, I chose to let my child try as it was so important —my child choose not to continue and was ok with that.My thoughts and prayers go out to you and Beth as you make this decision. It does not stop here,every day you will struggle with “am I doing the right thing,is this about me or my son”Ask for direction on this one from someone more powerful than any of us .hugs Aunt

    1. Thanks, Aunt Anne!

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