Wednesday 4 July 2018

An amazing England penalty shootout for our autistic son

Anthony goalkeeper

My husband spent a good deal of the evening, pacing around the hall, unable to watch the TV.  His stomach of nerves was surely replicated across many households in England.

It makes sense to imagine the worse as no team in history has lost more penalty shootouts at both the World Cup and Euros than England.  But these past losses have not been experienced by my autistic son, he simply hasn't been alive for long enough to see knock out after knock out.  Still, he felt this one.

There is a relatively common misconception that people with autism lack empathy or feeling. In fact many people with autism experience very strong feelings and empathy.  However, like our son, it's often that they either don't know how to interpret what they feel or know how to deal with them. Imagine feeling sad and needing hug... but not knowing that you needed a hug to feel better, so never getting one.

Anthony can feel extremely intense emotions and this is exponential when the feeling is unexpected.

On Anthony's paper reckoning, and apparently on his FIFA game, England were a better side. Logically therefore they should win.   He screamed, heaved big tears and threw himself face down onto the sofa. Learning to deal with emotions is part of growing up but it's a big challenge for our son.

Part of his difficulty was that this outcome was not expected.  We try to prepare him for the unpredictability of football, but the truth is he tries to create predictability to help him cope with the anxiety about it.

After extra time, the penalty shootout came.  Many people watching will... well.. may not have been watching but rather curled up in a ball in the corner of the room.  They may be in a similar position again if... sorry I'm not allowed to finished that sentence.

World Cup football

But this won't be the case for Anthony.   After Tuesday's result, as far as he's concerned, England are quite good at penalty shootouts.  Indeed he seem shocked when I told him of England's past history with them.  It simply doesn't match up with his experience.  What he has seen so far is a confident England team, no-nonsense sure footed strikes and keen resilience. And for Anthony, this is really something to aspire to.

Many kids with autism and ADHD can develop, or will already struggle with, confidence and resilience.  These can both have a real impact on mental health that can follow a child into adulthood. Building up confidence and resilience therefore is really important for their future well being.   One of the key things Anthony often struggles with around this area is decisions.

Making decisions for him is extremely difficult because it is dealing with unknowns.  Many things with my autistic kids are pretty black and white.  It's possibly why Anthony has never told a lie, or at least not meant to.  It's why England should have won the match.

Anthony doesn't like making decisions because he's not sure which one is 'right'.  However, there are lots of cases where deciding between one thing and another is neither right nor wrong.  It's simply a case of picking one.  This can send Anthony into turmoil.  But the message sent via the England team this week was clear.

Decide where to put the ball into the net and smack it in there with confidence.
I could have kissed Kieran Trippier in his interview. "We practised and practised and it paid off.. pick a spot and in training I was always going to put it in the same place. I keep going on about the spirit of the team. We carried on, we believed."

Make a decision.  Believe in yourself.  This message could speak directly to my boy.

Every evening since, he's been in the garden with his football, taking penalty shots one after the other,  into the goal between the tree and the bush.  He sees fun and excitement. I see decision, confidence, decision, growth.  So much.

For sure, the experience of having watched a knockout match already will help our Anthony cope with watching another one.  As Trippier says, practice helps.  But however the next game progresses and however far the England team get (come on boys.. you can do it), their attitude during that penalty shootout is one that can have a lasting impact on our lad.

Thanks boys. Now go and get em!


  1. It was so difficult watching that game without expectations that it would actually go our way on penalties! I can understand then how it must have been for Anthony, you explain it so well. I just hope the game tomorrow doesn't put him, and the rest of us, through that again! Thanks for sharing with #WotW

  2. I have to admit that I didn't watch the England game at all. I can well imagine that it was incredibly nerve-wracking to watch and how that goal in extra time must have come as quite a shock for Anthony. That advice to make a decision and believe in yourself is so important. I love that Anthony has been enjoying being in the garden doing penalty shots with his football and that it's helping him with confidence and decision making. #WotW

  3. The match sounds like it was quite the experience for Anthony. I missed the game on Tuesday but hubby said it was nerve wracking. Have a great weekend x #WotW

  4. Football is so unpredictable isn't it.
    How fab that your boy has been out taking penalty shots. It sounds like a lot of fun!
    Please no penalties tomorrow. I don't think my nerves can take it.

  5. It must be tough for Anthony to commute unknown situations like this but also worry you about such situations arising that cause him anxiety. Lets home the next match is a little more straight forward and he is happy with the outcome, how amazing would that be for all of us x


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