Socializing The One And Done Child

Sunday Morning Soccer Practice

He’s the child of older parents. I was 50 and Esther was 42 when he was born, so we knew he wouldn’t be playing with our friends’ kids. As he got older, we invited his cousins Justin or Lucas over for play dates, but they are three and four years older than him. Justin and Lucas played with Cristian if one of them came over. Cristian became the third wheel when they both came over.

Cristian is a one and done-child. He’s socially awkward and different. As concerned parents, we were constantly looking for ways to socialize him. When I was a SAHD, I took him to My Gym classes, storytime at the local library, or Mommy and Me class so he could interact with kids his age.

One afternoon when he was four, he became excited when he saw a group of kids his age on the playground. One of them walked up to him, asking, “What’s your name?” as he invited him to play.

It was a simple question, but to Cristian, it was like he was speaking a different language. Esther and I knew he was different, but watching him parallel play on that sunny afternoon reinforced how much. The children wanted him to join their group, but he lacked the social skills to interact with them, no matter how much they tried engaging him.

Cristian’s social skills have improved since that day. He now attends school with other autistic children and looks forward to seeing them every day. However, two years of a global pandemic brought new challenges.

Cristian playing alone on the playground.

When Spring 2020 became Summer, Cristian sought other children at parks and playgrounds. Although he was ecstatic, I worried about new challenges. He was often the only child on the playground wearing a mask. What were these parents thinking? I had to redirect him to another playground or take him to McDonald’s drive-through window for chicken nuggets more than once. As a responsible parent, I was trying to be careful, but wondered what are we teaching him?

When the pandemic arrived, Cristian, like every other child, switched from in-person classes to remote learning. Parents and educators learned school is about more than basic arithmetic or memorizing spelling words. You can’t replicate the social component sitting in front of a laptop on the kitchen table.  

When the new school year began, Esther and I made finding a friend for Cristian a priority. She found a six-week soccer program, and a running team catering to special needs athletes. On Sunday morning, I’d pack the car with his soccer and running gear before heading to soccer practice in Alley Pond Park before rushing off to Flushing Meadow Park for running drills.

After a year and a half of limited interaction with new people, Cristian enjoyed going through the various soccer drills on a crisp October morning. Although the children wore masks, I knew he had a huge smile under his. 

We rushed to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow Park when soccer practice ended. During her search, Esther found the Rolling Thunder Running Club. The team caters to children and adults of all levels who have special needs.  

Initially, I worried that rushing from park to park was excessive for a six-year-old child. I was happy that he took part in structured activities and socialized with kids his age. I didn’t want us to become that pair of little league parents. That concern lasted less than ten minutes after we arrived for the first practice when we met the coaches. 

The coaches, a married couple, were unloading their three children and equipment when we arrived. After a quick introduction, Cristian immediately started playing with the coaches’ kids as I helped them unload their car.

Cristian loved playing with his new friends and running laps around the Unisphere.  It’s a great outlet for his ADHD.  He’s played with his new friends between drills or before a race.  He’s completed several races, including a 5K.  As a former runner, this makes me happy, but not as much as watching him and a group of teammates playing on Sunday mornings.

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