I just found a reason to live in Las Vegas.
Here’s the thing about having a kid with a late diagnosis of autism, I feel like I’m super behind on the parental education. Pair that with the fact that I’m seriously shallow when it comes to reading material and usually prefer mystery, vampires and anything dystopian over biography, self-help, or uplifting religious material (minus scriptures), and you get a highly uneducated parent.
(Btw, thank you to the person who sent me the anonymous book in the mail, and thank you to my friend Shirlene for her book recommendation, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism, which I am reading right now and really trying to get excited about even though there are no vampires and it’s not set 300 years in the future.)
But, to prove to myself that I’m not going to be a lame-o parent who ignores all the amazing material and programs out there for Rex because it means dealing with his diagnosis, I decided to hit up Google and Las Vegas and see what they have for kids on the spectrum.
And that’s how I found Sport-Social. The most amazing, coolest, funner-than-all-the-other-things-we’ve-tried-for-Rex, designed specifically for kids with autism, rec center. They coach kids like Rex on appropriate social behavior in one-on-one and group settings, using a step-by-step approach that gives them the opportunity to practice those skills with other kids, using games and sports. He goes for an hour and a half each week, they have bikes, ramps, scooters and skate boards, a small basketball court, an art room, a class room and all sorts of table games.
I’ve seen behavioral therapy for autistic kids and it is definitely helpful, but this takes it to a whole new level. Kids work in 1:1, 2:1, 4:1 and 6:1 groups depending on where they’re at socially and what they’re working on.
It’s crazy how much they breakdown the basic structure of socialization for these kids, but it makes a huge difference. For instance, when you or I shake someone’s hand, we only shake it for about three seconds before letting go. When Rex shakes hands with other kids like him, they just keep shaking until someone tells them to stop. You and I don’t need a three second rule, he does.
We took a tour of the center last night and I learned a few things.
First, I realized once again that my son really really has autism. When you live with it and there’s no diagnosis you don’t see your child’s little idiosyncrasies as anything but unique and quirky. “That’s just Rex,” is a common phrase in our family. And it is just Rex, it’s all the adorable things that make him so delightful to be around.
But it’s also autism.
“Hi,” the counselor said when he met us for our tour. He looked right at Rex, “I’m Andrew, what’s your name?”
“Oh, uh, hello, uh, my name is Rex…” They shook hands, Rex looked down at the floor the entire time in his usual shy manner.
“Rex, you have to look at my eyes when you talk to me, see? Try it again…” then he repeated the introduction and I watched Rex struggle to make and keep eye contact with Andrew. By the third try they were high-fiveing. “Awesome!” Andrew said, “Here’s a Cool Friend’s ticket, thanks for being a cool friend!”
And that’s how the entire tour went. Rex would interact with Andrew during the tour and I watched this guy work his magic, making Rex look at him, practice asking appropriate questions, and even introducing himself to another kid at the center. When Rex self-corrected or was willing to replay a scenario with proper social skills, he got a Cool Friend’s ticket. It’s like Chuck-E-Cheese, the kids earn tickets for good social skills then they can turn them in for prizes ranging from 5 to 600 tickets in value. Huge incentive.
I am telling you, this place is going to change his life.
This morning Jason and Rex were at the table eating breakfast together and Jason asked Rex about last night’s tour. Immediately I watched as Rex’s entire communication mode changed, he looked Jason right in the eye and told him about it, adopting all the things the counselor had worked on with him.
It. Was. Amazing. Even Jason (who is super skeptical of the unconventional and not sure about this place) was surprised at the immediate change he saw in Rex.
I don’t know how long we will be here, but this opportunity makes it so worth it.
(PS–This post is NOT a paid endorsement, just a mother’s notation. They have no idea I’m writing about them…)