This morning, moments after my alarm went off, I flicked on the TV to my favourite morning show and began the arduous task of getting out of bed and getting ready for the day. As I went through my normal routine, I listened to the local news, segments on how to cook a baked potato (seriously) and how to save money for retirement, without really paying attention. And then a story came on that caught my attention. It was a follow-up piece to a story that had aired five years ago.
The original story was about a high school senior, a basketball player, who had set a school record for points scored during a game. The thing that made this story newsworthy on a national level was that it was the last game of the season, and it was the kid's first time on the court. I remember hearing about this story when it first aired and at the time I thought it was a nice, little, feel-good piece but it wasn't until this morning that I heard two things that I had never heard before. Those two little nuggets of information changed my perspective of the story.
I searched Youtube and found this segment that aired five years ago. Can you spot the two things that I missed?
He's autistic and he missed his first shot.
Watching this clip made me a little emotional. I love that the whole school was behind this kid, cheering him on, wishing for his success. Who says kids on the spectrum can't have friends? I love that this kid missed his first shot but instead of pulling him from the game, his coach crossed his fingers and said a prayer. I love that this kid felt confident enough, strong enough in himself, to try a second shot. And I love that he didn't stop the moment he achieved success, he kept going, he kept reaching for the next goal and the next. He didn't stop until the whistle blew and the game was over.
Often times those of us who know, work with or love a kid with extra needs want to give them a chance to 'be normal' but we are afraid of what a failure may do to their 'fragile' self esteem. We don't want them to have to deal with another disappointment or rejection so we shield them. We decide for them what they can handle, and often we put limitations on them that are unnecessary, limitations that end up suffocating their potential.
The reality is that failure is a part of life and without risking failure we would never know the joy of success. These kids will never know what they are capable of if we don't get out of their way and let them try. Let them be normal, let them experience life as it comes to them.
This kid, Jason McElwain, is now an adult who has published a book about this event in his life, tours around North America raising money for Autism Awareness, is entertaining assistant coaching job offers from several schools and universities and is confident, independent and self-sufficient. He was given the room to try and he succeeded.