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Olmsted on Autism: He Shoots! He Scores! Fire the Coach!

Toekn By Dan Olmsted

I had a strange reaction to this week's story about the high school basketball team manager in Maine. As USA Today reported: "Patrick Thibodeau, who has Down Syndrome, trotted onto the floor Tuesday night for the team's final home game of the season. When the time came to shoot, he nailed a 3-pointer for the second basket of the game. He hit another at the final buzzer."
 
This reminds us of the awesome J-Mac, Jason McElwain, the team manager with autism who when he finally got the chance scored 6 three pointers in the last 4 minutes of the last game of his senior year. But here's my question: Let's say a third-string player on one of these teams hadn't been in a game all year -- or ever. Coach puts him in the last game. Just so mom and dad can cheer. Kid goes wild! Hits from DOWNTOWN!!! Is un-CON-scious! ... all those sportscaster phrases.
 
Wouldn't people say, What was this coach thinking? He had one of his best players sitting at the other end of the bench for four long years and didn't know it? Aren't we trying to win here? (We sure were back at Danville High School in Illinois.)
 
Maybe I'm missing something -- some health concern, some Title IX thing, some nuance. If so, tell me. But geez, if the kid can play, let him play, not pick up sweaty towels. Don't make inclusion on the court or on the field a "very special," made-for-TV story. Make it typical.
--
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism

Comments

Ari Ne'eman

Good lord, I never thought it would happen, but Dan Olmsted and I finally agreed on something. Hell just got significantly chillier (and seeing as I'm visiting Boise, Idaho at the moment, I'm in a position to know chilly).

I'm actually speaking at the Special Olympics on a topic related to this tomorrow - SO is currently conducting a great deal of advocacy on the need for greater inclusion of people with disabilities in sports as part of their efforts to encourage Sports Equity Acts similar to what Maryland recently adopted. It's an important issue, as is the broader topic of inclusion for people with disabilities (particularly for autistic students, as we face a rate of segregation three times higher than the general population of students with disabilities, and significant risk of abuse and lack of access to the curriculum in many non-segregated settings that have yet to implement what is necessary for true inclusion). One can only hope that Dan's sudden discovery of the civil rights component of autism advocacy sticks instead of being drowned in the usual causation shtick. There is a world of advocacy to be done on civil rights, services, supports and education for autistic people across the lifespan that is being ignored due to the disproportionate focus on causation that has controlled the autism community in the past.

Sara

I thought exactly the same thing when the Jason McElwain story came out. The coach was all over TV being treated like some sort of humanitarian. Yet, he had never allowed him to play before that day. Just kind of soured it for me...

Elizabeth Hensley

Downs syndrome individuals often have heart problems and other often painful physical problems. So yes, there may be other reasons he is not a regular Player. I do not doubt his sick Relative was a factor in being allowed to play at all. And while the other Players were tired, he was fresh and highly motivated to make his short time in the Sun count. This reminds me of that folk song about the fair to middlin Player who played his heart out and won the game right after his Father died. The Father was blind and this was the first time (as this techi minded Christian would put it) "his "operating system had been upgraded to a better hardware system" so he could see to watch his Son play

Linda

Here! Here! My thoughts exactly! A good athlete is a good athlete is a good athlete. One of my kids is in special ed. and yet is a great dancer, yet we've been told "well, maybe she could be a helper for the cheerleaders". How about "maybe she can be on the cheer team in high school". If she's good enough, she's good enough!

Julie Swenson

Spot on, Dan!

Did anyone in the media even notice that this kid is REALLY FREAKING GOOD?!?! I mean, wow. I can't even play mini-golf.

It's wonderful to see his teammates so loving and supportive of him.

I went to an school from K-3rd grade that had totally mixed classrooms with kids in wheelchairs, kids with Down's, kids with CP, etc., along with 'typical' kids. I never once recalled my parents telling me that I went to school with disabled kids or that they were different from me (thereby making them 'less' than a regular kid somehow)...they were kids. I wish there were more schools like that. I look back now and realize how many friends I was with kids there that would now be shoved into special ed classrooms.

I'm forever grateful to my parents for sending me and my sister there and grateful that I was allowed to grow up from an early age not seeing disabled folks as different.

cj

I saw this spotlight on the Today show as well and the thought did cross my mind that he looked pretty good out there why was he only playing on senior night. They also mentioned that his dad was the assistant coach (who was recovering from a stroke). I couldn't help think if that helped or hurt him or if there was more to the situation that we are not seeing in the few minute segment.

It seemed like a special day for the team and the family though....

Stagmom

Bad Apple, some of the attributes of Aspergers are indeed highly useful! Concentration, ability to laser focus on a tast, rational thinking skills. (How many Aspergians got duped by Bernie Madoff? I'm guessing none!)

Kathy Blanco

Kids that grow up with inclusion in their classrooms grow to be adults who think it normal to have all types in their world. This is the world I wish I could live in. They don't fear the unusual, the not pretty and the not normal. For a time, a district we are now in, did so, then dropped it. When we came into the district, they just droped the inclusion model, and we couldn't believe we had to fight so hard to get our child into a normal clasrroom with an aide. First, we were lied to that that was even exceptable, then we found that there were numerous parents doing it in our district, and pointed out what schools still were...needless to say, thata was a BOUYUA IPE meeting...and we have it all on tape, it was prescious....

That said, I did not grow up in that inclusion model, and I remember quite distinctfully feeling awkward around kids with DOWNS and the like, I didn't go out of my way, to make sure I was kind to them, and or get to know them...they were just "those kids"...what a lost lesson that I could have had, and I moarn that I made fun of them as a teenager...because I wasn't taught..it was so foreign... (maybe it's God's way of getting me back heh?)

Perhaps we need to rethink this closed classroom idea, and let these kids learn from one another, it is a win win situation. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, when someone is not able to cope with the classroom setting, but for crying out loud, lets give them a change to succeed in our world?

All our children deserve chances...but our current school system is to afraid to expose children to the spectrum of people on our planet. I wish we could have that town in Europe, which embraces differences...some familes even take into their own families, the lost and forgotten who have disabilties...they love it...why can't we learn to love it too? What's wrong with us selfish Americans?

Bad Apple

I’ve always wondered if some of the qualities that are intrinsic to what makes an aspie an aspie might not be seen as positive qualities rather than as negative ones. (IE, the somewhat literal interpretation of language. Or the fixating, which could as easily be called the ‘focus’ so necessary to get a basketball consistently through a basketball hoop.) More so of course with those higher on the spectrum. It’s a matter of perspective.

People don’t like what they don’t understand, though. They’re afraid of it. And if there’s one thing people haven’t understood over the last few decades, I think, it’s those quirky, quiet, mysterious aspies.

Perhaps now that they’re starting to understand, they are even more afraid.

What I mean is, most people I’ve met are seriously in denial that vaccines could have contributed to something as potentially devastating as autism. If they should manage to wrap their brains around the idea that their government could have been responsible for poisoning a significant portion of a generation of people, well think about it—how does one approach somebody who might understand that, oops, their government poisoned them and then did everything within it’s very considerable power to do nothing to help but rather to hide that fact?

It doesn’t seem odd to me that many of the neurologically typical do everything they can to deny and/or ignore as much as possible those on the spectrum. Not saying it’s right. Just that it doesn’t surprise me all that much.


Lisa

I have always wondered why J-Mac and now this adorable boy don't play all the time?

If they have the talent - put them in the game coach!

Shauna @ Together In Autism

Exactly, looks like there had been possibly more of a focus on a disability rather that what he was mastered in. Why did it take another member of the team to give him a chance? He should have already been the secret weapon for the team to pull in at the end of every game, or when they were low on the score board. There are too many inaccurate assumptions in life, we are all different and all have our strengths autistic/vaccine injured/down syndrome or not. I agree Dan, you think that his talents would have been already known?

Sincerely,
Shauna Layton-Founder
Together In Autism
www.togetherinautism.org
togetherinautism@aol.com

K Fuller Yuba city

I love it when a child with a disability shows how "Normal" they are in so many ways.
Our children need frequent interaction with neurotypical peers in order to learn social behavior. Pushing for inclusion in classes such as Art, Choir, PE etc. can be exhausting, but it changes the landscape of our child's life. Special needs programs do not belong in the last classroom, in the last building, at the back of the parking lot. If our children want to be on a team or in a club move out of the way and let them in.
When the media picks up on a special needs child doing something magnificent, I can see thousands of people learning something new. It is heart warming to see this boy have a chance to show that he can do it too but why do so many people think that he can't?

Surferdude

If you are looking for a pro athelete with ASD, look no further than Clay Marzo, a pro surfer with Asperger's.

dan olmsted

Dear Neil, Thanks for your comment about why someone like J-Mac, despite his stellar performance, might not be able to play the way a typical youth with his skills would. That's what I meant when I asked whether I was missing something -- having no kids, I don't presume to have the requisite insight into things like that. But I still wonder if, in particular, J-Mac's talents couldn't have been used more and better. There's the position of "shooting guard," which often goes to the kid who isn't necessarily a playmaker or good on defense but can square up from behind the three-point line and hit a high percentage of his shots. And in baseball, there are relief pitchers and "closers" -- they may not be good for more than a couple of innings, but they sure can throw strikes and win games. Surely someone must have noticed in four years that J-Mac could hit the basket. It just seems to me with the level of talent he displayed that last four minutes, it was unlikely to have been a statistical fluke. Why not put him in the last four minutes of every game? As I said, sports are about winning (plus all that nice teamwork stuff, but the point is to win). I just suspect they overlooked the role J-Mac could have been helping them win all the way along because they were more aware of his "disability" than his ability. I realize this comment is longer than my original post but there have got to be a lot of J-Macs out there (more all the time) and while we cheer the "emotional" cinderalla story we should also ask, why wasn't this kid invited to the ball in the first place? -- dan

dan olmsted

Dear "Bless You,"

That's a very good point about Sam Thompson. I too would be interested in reading more about his decision. Kudos to him! -- Dan

neil balter

you all just don't get it :) as a a father of a son with autism i was proud of both these kids but don't think for a minute that they could keep up with the rest of the kids on a ongoing bases at the same skill level.

Bless you Sam Thompson

I think Sam Thompson, the boy who gave up his spot for Patrick, deserves some recognition as well. I would like for someone to interview his parents to find out exactly how they instilled some decent values of empathy and sacrifice into him. What makes Sam Thompson tick?

We can't hope to see true progress in society unless there are more Sam Thompsons around, willing to give up the spotlight, to enable the Patricks of this world to shine.

Jenni Byrd

"Don't make inclusion on the court or on the field a 'very special,' made-for-TV story. Make it typical."


Very well said. Just shows we still have a lot more work to educate EVERYONE about inclusion of individuals with special needs.

Steve

Dan with the autism rates being as they are I think it won't be long before we see a legitimate pro athlete definitively on the spectrum.

While many affected kids will never get a chance as their motor skills are simply too fried by vaccines, thanks for reminding us not to get caught into the trap of doubting what it possible.

kathleen

Don't make inclusion on the court or on the field a "very special," made-for-TV story. Make it typical.


Dan, I totally agree!

Stagmom

Dan, I agree with you. Our kids - whether with Down Syndrome, autism or any other diagnosis - deserve to be treated as more than oddities, pets, or worse, second class citizens. Inclusion often means, "let them hover nearby but that's it."

I'm happy this young man had a chance at glory - I hope he has many many more opportunities. Provided not as charity or gifts to him, but as a function of his ability and value.

KIM

kathleen

Here's a link to the game:

http://mommy23monkeys.com/2009/02/05/basketball-player-with-down-syndrome/

Way to go Patrick!!!

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