I have been struggling with whether or not to write this post for a while now. It's been swirling around in my brain, trying to find its way out.
As most of you know, Tyler was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (Asperger's) back in February. I don't talk about him very much, because he's a self-conscious kid. He's sensitive and serious and doesn't like his picture taken as much. I try to respect that.
Well, as I mentioned above, Tyler wrestles. He started in kindergarten and has wrestled in the local school program the last 3 years. This past year (I think it was in March?) there was an invitational meet against some local teams. Before the meet even began, Tyler was extremely nervous. I'm not sure where his anxiety comes from. Is it a fear of failure? Or is it more than that? Is it the crowds? The noise? The lights? Being the center of attention? His self-esteem has never been the greatest either--even though I try as hard as I can to build him up.
I told Tyler before the meet began that I didn't care if he won or lost his matches--that I was just proud of him for going out there. I told him to try his hardest and he'd do fine. He was still overwhelmed with anxiety. I could tell he did not want to be there.
Well, Tyler got beat. Actually, he got slaughtered. (Just telling it like it is.) The kids he competed against were fast. They were strong. And they were intimidating. I couldn't help but think, "Shouldn't Tyler be doing better than this by now? He's been wrestling for 3 years."
Tyler knew most of the moves, but he thought too much. Rather than attacking, he hesitated. He'd wait a couple of seconds and let his opponent strike first. And then he was on the floor. Once he was on his back, Tyler didn't even struggle. He just gave up. He didn't know how to fight back. Or maybe he didn't have the strength? I didn't know. It was almost painful to watch. Luckily, he got a medal anyway for participating. That helped.
I've been doing a lot of research on autism and hypotonia, or low muscle tone (sometimes referred to as "floppiness". It is one of 7 characteristic traits of autism. (The other 6 being echolalia, hypersensitivity, self-stimulatory behavior, Pica, hyperlexia, and narrow interests.)
Both of my kids have hypotonia. It's not uncommon. 30% of people with autism have low muscle tone. (That's why they usually go to OT or PT or both.) They usually have weak core muscles, poor posture, and may appear clumsy.
Hypotonia usually goes hand-in-hand with hypermobile joints--loose or lax joints. When someone has hypermobile joints, they have joints in which the connective tissue structures that hold the body together have more give (are more easily stretched) than usual. (Does that make sense? I'll put it in more simple terms. My kids have the ability to move their limbs into awkward positions. For example, Derek sits on the ground with his legs in a W-shape. He does this with ease, without thinking about it. We had to teach him how to sit cross-legged.) Their muscles have to work harder than usual to do things such as keep a good posture and/or move.
People with hypermobile joints can:
* Bend their fingers back to 90 degrees
|I had trouble getting a picture of it. His fingers actually bend more than this. But you get the drift. Creepy.|
* Bend their wrist so that the thumb touches the forearm
* When standing straight, knees and elbows appear to bend backwards
|Ignore my messy house.|
Hypotonia and hypermobile joints can make children seem uncoordinated and clumsy. They may have an "unusual gait." It may affect their speech, pencil grip, and hand writing (the handwriting thing is actually what clued me in that something was "wrong" with Tyler--his handwriting is atrocious! And even with OT and practice, it remains terrible.) They may have trouble sitting upright and working at a table--they may tend to sit with their back rounded, they may put an elbow on the table and rest their head on their hand, and they may tend to fidget in their seats. They may also tire very quickly (Tyler gets tired walking around Walmart with me. He complains that his legs hurt. I remember specifically about it a few years ago.) They may be good at things that involve short bursts of energy, but have difficulty with things that require endurance. They cannot hang on monkey bars and do not like climbing on jungle gyms because their arm strength is poor. They often sit in a W-position rather than a cross-legged position.
Back to Tyler.
This summer, I put him in a pretty intense wrestling program in a town 30 minutes away. He was mad as a hornet the first week. He didn't want to do it at all. It was 3 days a week, and averaged an hour and a half each practice. (FYI, I told him he had to go the first week, just to try it, and if he didn't like it, we'd talk. I wanted him to at least give it a shot. This kid hates change with a fire of a thousand suns. He ended up liking it. Hah!) They did more than just wrestle, though. The kids jumped rope, ran through tires, pushed heavy tires through sand, ran sprints, stretched, and did push-ups and such. They also learned wrestling moves and practiced with their teammates. He made a few friends. He learned a lot about teamwork. His coach was amazing and helped him build some self-confidence. I figured it was like OT--only more fun.
Wrestling didn't "cure" Tyler's hypotonia. It never goes away. But the weak muscles can be strengthened through training. And that's just what this summer was all about. Tyler still has trouble with certain things. I noticed that when it came to jumping rope, he never quite got the hang of jumping with both feet at the same time, even though we practiced at home. Push-ups were extremely difficult for him. Climbing the rope? Hahahaha. I don't know if that will ever happen. But he definitely got stronger. And stretches? Those seemed pretty easy. He could do the bridge easily and he never seemed to have that much trouble when he was put into strange positions while wrestling. (That has to do with the joint hypermobility more than training, but still...there's a silver lining to most things, right?)
|Tyler in a VERY strange position while wrestling. He wasn't fazed at all.|
He was still a little slower to respond to commands than the other kids. And he had a tendency to want to give up when another kid was winning, but with a really, really good coach encouraging him and telling him exactly what he needed to do all summer long, Tyler improved tremendously. I was actually shocked by how much better he got.
And then I was crushed. There was a meet last Saturday. And Tyler refused to go. I brought it up several times. Each time resulted in tears. And he threatened to quit wrestling altogether if I made him go.
I could have forced him.
I really wanted to see how much better he'd gotten. More than that, I wanted him to see it too.
But there is a fine line between pushing your kid so hard that they end up hating something, and just letting them doing something because they love it.
I didn't want to be one of those parents.
I don't know exactly where that line is, but I didn't want to cross it. Tyler is 8. He has (hopefully) a number of years left to wrestle. I was scared that if I pushed him to compete in this one meet, he'd want to quit wrestling forever, and wrestling is so good for him, physically, mentally, and emotionally, that I can't allow one meet to ruin that. I have to remember that he's a kid--a kid with a lot of issues that I never had to deal with.
And amazingly, this kid of mine is keeping up with typical kids. He may not ever win state, but he's right there with the other kids. He's putting in the time and the work and earning the respect of his teammates. He's sweating and hurting and bleeding, just like the rest of them. Considering most kids like him refuse to participate in activities they think will be too difficult? He's doing great just by wrestling at all. I'm pretty damn proud. Meets? They'll come in time. I know it. I believe in him.