When my son, M, was born it changed my world. Everything was brighter. I loved all the little nuances of having a baby. (ok, maybe not being up for 36+ hours during a colicky spell – but other than that.) There was a new meaning for me. So cheesy, yes, but true. As he got older I of course thought that I had the most genius baby of all time. I had all of the parent dreams of my child being a celebrated brain surgeon and a part-time actor on Broadway. (Not your dreams? Hmmm…) And then eventually we noticed so many differences between our child and others of his age. I go into our diagnosis post here. For example, my son couldn’t sit in a chair for nearly more than a slight moment when he was in pre-K. I couldn’t even imagine him in a regular school setting. I peered through the little window of his pre-K classroom thinking, “He’s not going to make it. The world is SO hard, what are we going to do??”.
***And here is where I would love to interject with how therapies worked and we pulled together and found strength and alternative options for him and now he’s overcoming everything against all odds etc, etc. But that isn’t really what happened and in a lot of ways, our situation has gotten more complicated.
We did find ourselves in a satisfactory public school with reasonable resource (re: Special Education) teachers. We enrolled M in private pediatric OT (occupational therapy), found appropriate special needs play groups for him, worked with our pediatricians to find helpful medications to slow his impulse control down so he could think more clearly. Did it fix the autism? Absolutely not. Did it help the “sitting in the chair” efforts. Absolutely. Several of the teachers throughout elementary school were competent, a couple were good, and 1 was outstanding. At least there was 1. We had a few battles, most parents do, and most special needs parents certainly do. There was one entire year where my son’s goals consisted of 1) not crying during the day and 2) having snack. I’m not sure he really met either of those goals that year. By the end of elementary school, he was doing ok, but had stopped progressing with any meaningful speed. Now that he is in middle school, well, it hasn’t gotten any better really. We’re hiring a team now to manage his IEP to ensure that he has actionable goals in school and an advocate to represent our family to the school and district. Hopefully this will allow him to access more of his educational potential. I was disappointed, frustrated and after all of the shock of the teacher conferences wore off, I felt like we were going to need a new path. M was not going to be able to follow traditional academic to career paths like my other children might choose. Not even if they were modified for him. We were going to have to think outside the box. For me this was so foreign. I was pushed right up the academic ladder with no other alternatives given to me. The thought of my child veering from the tried and true career path that I was so familiar with was daunting and scary. I was pretty sure I had failed my child at age 10.
My husband works in technology, and he came home in the midst of my “sky falling” episodes of teacher conferences and started asking me some questions. “Can he do simple math?” he asked. “Of course”, I said. “Can he fill out a form and write a simple paper?” I was curious now. “Yes, I think so”. “Well, maybe not academics then, but there is a such thing as e-Sports you know, and you can earn an income doing that. Maybe he could earn a place on a team? We could look into tournaments”. This totally blew my mind. I don’t watch gaming and I thought just “kids” did that on YouTube. Oh no, my friends, its a thing. Its real. Millions of people (80+Million according to ESPN gaming) watch video gaming tournaments around the world and yes, you can be a professional gamer. Approximately 44% of those watching are parents, 38% are women, and more than half are employed full-time, lest you think that these are kids camped out in the basement of their parents’ homes. The gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and console and MMO (mass multi-player online gaming accounts for about 57% of all gaming (source: wePC.com, NewZoo). Twitch.tv and YouTube are apparently the biggest video-streaming sites for eSports.
So, most kids these days are good at gaming. Spectrum kids/adults are often better. Its the ability to hyper-focus and hone in on a particular detail or subject for a longer period of time than neurotypical counterparts. They can find the differences in patterns, what doesn’t fit, puzzle solving – that sort of thing. My son beat Super Mario Galaxy when he was 3. Without being able to read. I have no idea what this path might look like for our family, for my son in particular, but the path he is on has ended. He has to make a turn, try something new. So we’re going to try this. We’re looking into teams and tournaments. We’re beginning to teach him to record and edit video and he’s practicing speaking on camera. He’s learning to code a little bit. All of those skills are practical in the “real world”. Maybe he’ll use them one day. I figure if all we do here is to give him a hobby where he can be creative and reinforce his self-confidence, then that’s ok too. My daughter ice skates in competitions, my son does theatre performances, I guess my oldest will check this out. Stay tuned!