Sunday 1 August 2021

Five reason's watching the Olympics is good for my autistic kids

It's a week to the end of the Olympics Games in Toyko.  I've been glued to parts of the games, commiserated, applauded and stayed up too late to watch finals. And I'm not the only one.
Our son Anthony has also been excited by the spectacle of The Games.  He has autism and sometimes needs help to know what's happening on the screen.  There are lots of events, in different places, with different people and rules. In addition to learning about the different sports there are, he's also had the opportunity to learn about attitudes too.  Here are five good things the games have shown Anthony.

1. We are proud of our friends and our team even when they are last

Some of my kids have intense anxiety. Anxiety and other mental health issues affect nearly 70% of people with autism. The concern over losing can worry even the calmest of kids but throw autism and anxiety into the mix and it can be a real fear. We had to spend time helping Anthony overcome his fear of coming last at his swimming gala years ago.  He nearly didn't take part because he was worried about coming last. We used the Olympics to help him. The greatest sports people from all over the world lose in every single race.  And we are still proud of them. We still cheer them on and we support them in every event they take part it.

2. To try again

They didn't win in the last Olympics but they still come back years later and try again.  Many kids with autism find many things hard. Some have difficulty with school, or with friends or with simple tasks like getting dressed or leaving the house. Some have difficult with their sensory systems. But Olympians always try their best, and try and try again even when it's difficult.  Tom Daley has been training for the Olympics since he was 12 years old. Having made his Olympic debut aged 14, he had to wait till his fourth Games in Tokyo to get his hands on a gold medal.  Keep going and in the meantime, you can be proud of your efforts.

3. Everyone makes mistakes

Anthony finds making mistakes very difficult. It makes him anxious and he has a hard time moving on until it is corrected or he feels OK.  So many athletes have been interviewed saying they made a mistake and their opponent capitalised on this but they still came away with a medal. The Taekwondo team were amazing and knowing that they can admit making mistakes makes a huge difference to those who struggle with this.  Others made errors that cost them more like disqualification from a race and if this can happen to adults on TV then it's OK for it to happen to my kids. 

4. It's OK to be sad when you miss out

If an adult can be gutted on missing out on a medal then so can my autistic son when he misses out on something. Britain's came fourth in so many things. By the end of just the sixth day of full competition at the Games, British athletes had finished in the most agonising place of them all no fewer than ten times. British Rowing had six fourth places but like all those participating in the Games, they gave their all and tried their best.

5. Your mental health is more important than the competition 

In 2016, American gymnast Simone Biles fell off the beam. She still managed to win a bronze medal on the apparatus and went on to win her fourth medal gold on the floor afterwards. But this year she had medal opportunities that she chose not to take on, withdrawing due to mental health. 

Katie Legg, Director, Strategy and Partnerships at Mental Health UK, said: “Athletes push themselves to the limit to perform at the pinnacle of their sport, and they understand the role good mental health and resilience plays in achieving their dreams. 

None of us watching at home can fully understand what Simone is going through, but there is no doubt that this was a brave decision to take with the world watching your every move and the weight of a nation on your shoulders. To be open that you are struggling and to ask for support is not a sign of weakness, but a strength. We can all learn from her example and prioritise our mental health as much as our physical health.” 

We wish her all the best and thank her for showing us that mental health is a priority for everyone.

What did you take away from The Games?

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