Last year, the parent of a former Hudson Cliffs Baseball League player and a Camp Twelve Trails camper, addressed UJA-Federation of New York to share the impact their Sports for Youth initiative has had on her family. This is what she had to say.
I am so honored to be here with you today to talk a little about the huge impact UJA’s Sports For Youth funding has had on my family through its amazing support of all of the Y’s athletic programs.
My son Joshua was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. His journey from a non-verbal toddler to his sports-obsessed 14-year-old self has been anything but dull. He’s come so far.
At Camp Twelve Trails, his highlights included the overnight teen trip to Boston (especially the tour of Fenway Park!) and climbing to the top of the rock wall! (The hard way!)
Anyone who knows him from the Y programs will tell you what a gentle, kind, sensitive, and funny kid he is. So it’s not just his mom’s biased opinion — he’s pretty much a joy to be around.
My husband and I were thrilled when, in third grade, Joshua developed an interest in sports. When I say an interest, any of you familiar with autism will understand that I mean an obsession. While his peers were waking up at 6 am to watch Phineas and Ferb, Joshua was watching the replay of last night’s Met game. So when we learned about Hudson Cliffs Baseball League, a small neighborhood program run by the Y, we signed him up immediately!
First order of business — help him really learn the game, but his academic challenges made this tricky. To give you a sense of what that was like, one night at dinner Joshua says, “Can I tell you a question?”
Mom: “You mean: ‘Can I ask you a question?’”
Joshua: “Yeah. If someone is on second base and there’s a bunt, do I throw to first base or second base?”
Mom: “Who are you?”
Joshua: “I’m Joshua.”
Mom: “I know you’re Joshua. What position are you playing?”
Joshua: “Short stop — sometimes left field — they switch it up.”
Mom: “I know. But what position are you playing for the question?”
Our own little version of “Who’s on First?”
Joshua routinely makes Herculean efforts to understand the larger concepts that sometimes elude him, so we expand the conversation to explain how you should overrun first base. It’s hard for us to know if he’s getting it. But we DO know that he cracks up at our attempts to tear up napkins to represent the bases and then use two fingers to run them. And before long, he circles back to his original question:
“Mommy, if there’s a bunt, do I throw to first or second base?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Joshua.” A little indignant, this time.
That spring, every Sunday morning Joshua suited up as number 11 on the Blue Sky Hawks. My husband and I pretended to be brave, but we were terrified. Would he be okay out there surrounded by other kids who are much less predictable than the adults he prefers? Would he get beyond his sometimes crippling anxiety when all eyes are on him?
One particular Sunday, Joshua’s first two ground balls landed him out at first base. He almost broke the “no crying in baseball” rule, but was quickly comforted by a supportive coach who praised his good solid contact with the ball. And a few short innings later: redemption! The Sky Hawks were in the field with one out to go, there was a pop fly, and Joshua caught it to end the inning. He really caught it! The kid with sensory issues that make it hard for him to close the glove on the ball. And to choruses of, “That was awesome, Joshua!” from his teammates.
It was amazing. And not just for Joshua, but also for my husband Jon and me. Those Blue Sky Hawks and later the Orange Demons gave our family the opportunity to be an integral part of the local community, never an easy feat for us since his special needs school is an hour away. We got to sit on the bench alongside all the other parents and shout encouraging messages to our boys and our girls, and to collectively bottle their proud smiles for the off-season.
In his last game on the Orange Demons, little attention was paid to their 1 and 5 record. Everyone knew that was not what mattered. Joshua was recognized and appreciated beyond being the kid on the team with autism.
Thank you again to all of you for your support, it means the world to kids like Joshua.
And, our thanks to UJA for helping make stories like this possible!