Director's Column: The Shots Heard Round the World – Young Man with Autism Scores 20
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
What makes this such a love-hate story is that the talents of many individuals with autism and other disabilities are isolated from the rest of the world because of low expectations, misunderstood perceptions, and resistance to change. Dr. Catherine Lord, a professor of psychiatry and the director for the University of Michigan's Autism and Communications Disorders Center, said it best: "There are thousands of Jasons out there, carrying the net for the soccer team, keeping statistics for the baseball team, playing the drum for the school band. This serves as a reminder to give these kids a chance whenever possible." From a sociological perspective, our ball fields – and places of employment – are void of people with disabilities. We’ve built a society on survival of the fittest and have left little room for people with disabilities to experience some of the more essential aspects of full inclusion. Sure, it’s nice to be the basketball manager and sit on the bench for 4 years watching your teammates score all the points, but it doesn’t come close to the experience of scoring your own points.
When it comes to sports, most children in the early years want to participate not to win, but to experience a social connection with their peers. Today, so much of school and after-school activities are devoid of team efforts and are spent in isolation – reading, writing, studying, watching TV, or using the computer. Sports is that one essential medium for bringing children together in a cohesive and constructive way so that they can learn how to get along with others, work as a team, and stay connected to their group and community.
Jason McElwain provided yet another example of how important it is for society to give people with disabilities a chance to play. What other children learn on the sports field from the experience of having a teammate with a disability will transcend any classroom textbook on the topic and will help build a society that is more aware of the need to include people with disabilities in every aspect of life. Even for children who have less skill than this young man, technology can play a role in giving every child a shot at winning the game or making 20 points. All it takes is the will of a society to allow people with disabilities an opportunity to play rather than remain on the sidelines. As Dr. Susan Hyman, an associate professor for pediatrics at the University of Rochester's Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, said: "This is about looking at what sports do for kids in America. You see kids with special needs on the sidelines, not involved, while their typically developing peers are playing. I think the good to come of this is that people will look at the novel ways all members of a community can participate." Amen to that.