Sometimes, life throws you a curveball when you're not really expecting it.
My son, Eric, is closing in on his fourth birthday. He's a wonderful boy, a parent's dream, full of energy and very mischievous, but well-behaved, sleeps like a rock for about 12 hours a night -- and has since he was a couple months old. He can say his alphabet and count to 250 or beyond, loves to watch The Little Einsteins on Playhouse Disney, adores both sets of grandparents and his cousins, too, and is cute as can be.
I've always dreamed of having a son who I can teach the game of baseball to. I've envisioned afternoons of playing catch in the backyard or going to the batting cages, just the two of us, or maybe playing whiffleball like I did as a kid, and pretending that the roof of the neighbor's house is the "upper deck seats."
My dad coached college football for 26 years, and is Director of Athletics at a nearby college, so of course, sports have always been an integral part of the fabric of my life. I spent more than 10 years as Director of Sports Information at several colleges, and even served as the official statistician at the NCAA College World Series in Omaha for a couple summers.
Baseball has always been important to me. I love the sport, played Little League, Babe Ruth, and high school baseball, have coached kids' teams, and have had a love affair with the Kansas City Royals since 1980. Even though I currently live in Minnesota, and have had to put up with my son occasionally wearing a Twins shirt that he's been given, I have secretly hoped that my love for the Royals will wear off on him, and I'll have another KC fan in the house to celebrate, or commiserate, with.
But that's where life's curveball comes into play. Within the past year, we've learned that Eric is Autistic.
Just like one of those slow-breaking Zack Greinke curveballs, I had seen this coming for quite some time, as I've had suspicions that autism might be a possibility for a year or two. I recognized signs in his behavior at a very early age -- staring at ceiling fans, slow development both physically and verbally, flapping his hands when he was excited -- but it still takes awhile to absorb the news that your suspicions were on the mark, and to think about what type of impact it might have on our lives.
Today was one of those days, as I was thinking about the start of Spring Training for the Royals in Surprise, AZ, and then realized that those days of playing catch with Eric might no longer be a possibility.
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. (Source: Autism Speaks)
Many people's image of autism is of an individual like Raymond Babbitt, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie Rain Man.
Fortunately, Eric seems to be on the mild end of the spectrum. He communicates very well, despite getting his pronouns confused, and is for the most part, a very normal child. We take him to private speech and occupational therapy sessions every week, and he attends a class four afternoons per week to work on various skill sets. Early intervention can have a very positive outcome on a child's long-term prognosis, so we do everything that we can to try to help him, as any parent should.
For Christmas this year, his grandma and grandpa gave him his first baseball glove. It really brought a smile to all of our faces, as we watched Eric try to figure out how to use it. We put it on his hand, and then laughed as he took the ball, put it in the glove, and tried to throw with the glove hand -- who knows, maybe he's a natural lefty. But I suppose that's common for any young kid who might get his first baseball glove at the age of three, and I love that he seems interested in sports, even if it's unlikely that he'll play them competitively at an advanced level.
But just like a hitter who has to adjust to a curveball or a changeup, I simply need to adjust to the pitch that life has thrown me, and to be content with whatever it is that makes Eric happy in life. Maybe that will be baseball, maybe it won't. Maybe his love of numbers will lead him to become a statistician, just like his dad. And, maybe, he'll choose to be a Twins fan, just like grandpa. Or maybe he'll find that he really enjoys things other than sports, and that's just fine.
Of course, that would be a hard curveball for me to take, but then again, you never know what life will throw your way. And, it could be worse -- he could end up being a Cardinals fan like his uncle Matt.