When you live with someone who has autism, you spend your days living side by side lives in two parallel universes. In CJ’s universe, I think the sky is green and all the clothes are loose and baggy and chicken nuggets grow on trees. My family is aware of this of this sort of disconnect because we live with it every day. But once a year, the world gets a reminder too.
Last week was Autism Awareness Day. Each year, everyone is supposed to wear blue to show support. Each year, I forget. Some years I don’t even own a blue shirt. I don’t have anything with the “Autism Speaks” puzzle pieces on it either. CJ’s color is green. My color is red. Period. Autism…well, autism gets my support every day of the year already. I have the bumper sticker. I think I have an attitude as well.
It’s baseball season at CJ’s school, and the team and coaches wanted to recognize Autism Awareness Day. Could CJ throw out the first pitch of the game?
Sure. Absolutely. As long as he isn’t actually involved in the game. I made myself clear. There could be no repeat of the once-in-a-lifetime football experience. Meaning NO tight pants! Basically, if it’s not loose enough to hide a baseball in it, CJ won’t be wearing it.
Autism spoke at my house that day.
The day of the game, I dug through my drawers and found a school shirt that just happened to be blue. No puzzle pieces though. I put on my Autism ribbon pin and some sandals and off we went to the game.
When we got there, we found the school selling original design T-shirts. Of course, they say HAWKS, because that’s the school’s mascot. No brainer. But the lettering for the word is made out of puzzle pieces. In all the colors of the rainbow. With an Autism Awareness ribbon behind.
I stood there blinking, because that was some seriously fine design work for just another ball game.
Then CJ walked up to me, sporting the shirt with a big thumbs up and a “gotta love it” grin.
And then he turned around.
Not only is CJ throwing out the ball…he’s on the team! And the whole team is wearing these awesome shirts with their numbers on the back, ready to play the game. And CJ is Number One.
I got to my seat in the bleachers and looked down.
Right smack in the middle of the field. Lake Howell on a puzzle piece!
And the icing on the cake? The cherry on top?
The team had invited the Challenger players out onto the field. They walked out onto the field and their names were called out over the loud speaker. We were already buzzed with excitement just watching this moment in the sun. Then CJ threw out the first pitch, and not a bad throw either.
And then…the team presented me with a check for Challenger.
If I haven’t said it before, or said it lately, I love this school. The level of thoughtful kindness, creativity and support both the staff and the kids have shown to all the special needs kids in their sphere has been overwhelming and has been a gift of real joy for so many people. At this school, we win whether or not the kids win or lose the game. They are learning every day that there is more to life than winning at sports. They are growing hearts and minds for a lifetime.