Ashlyn has a job.
She is now manager of the girls varsity soccer team at her high school.
Ashlyn loves soccer and is the star of her team, her Special Olympics team.
When she first told me she wanted to be manager I was leery.
She would be at school, after school hours, without support staff or an autism classroom or anyone who could do all of the things we do to make life manageable for her.
What if she has a melt down? What if it is too overwhelming? What if the coaches don’t give her enough guidance?
But I had to let her do it. Autism or not, she is a teenager and gaining independence is part of growing up, for both of us.
So last week, after her first practice, she came to the car a bit disheveled, talking loudly, barely keeping it together before the car door shut.
Shoot, shoot, shoot, I knew we shouldn’t have done this. It was too much, too many people, too loud, too everything.
She said it went fine but I wondered if somewhere in her mind she was unsure as to why she was the helper and not the player.
When the next day of practice came she wanted to go back so I let her, not wanting to communicate the thoughts rolling around in my head and put something in her mind that might not already be there.
Day Two: She came out happy and a little overwhelmed but no more so than a typical school day, stated that she had a friend and the girls were nice.
Can we do this? Can she do this? She has a friend.
Day Three: Happy again and full of information about her jobs and her coaches and her friends.
We are doing it.
Which leads me to day four. Day four she was not supposed to go. Day four is her day off because this level of activity and noise and people is always too much and limits are good.
But she packed her bag for practice and told me to pick her up from school because she was going again today.
“I am important to them, Mom.”
“They need me.”
And I got it. Ashlyn has been “helped” her whole life. Now it is her turn.
Just like the millions of other children with autism, she has amazing talents but has had to spend so much time working to be like the rest of the world, that those talents have often been overlooked and “helper” is not her role often played.
But now it is.
Three days a week she is needed by two coaches and a big group of teenage girls. Give her a week and she will know their names, their numbers, every goal they have scored and the game and bus schedule.
She is amazing and invaluable and needed, so very needed.
More than she will ever, ever know.
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