Autistic Student Plays Sports Despite Setbacks

by Caitlin Race

David Race, also known as my younger brother, has been doing sports since he was first able to join, although he usually quit fairly quickly. Over the years, he began to commit more, especially when it came to basketball. Last year, his mother said it was his first year doing cross country.

“His team came in first place. I don’t think he actually ranked, he runs in slow-mo… Sorry!”

When David was eight, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, which means learning the plays of a game are a little more difficult for him. Throughout the years, he has experienced problems with sensitivities, hectic situations, and explaining his thoughts. This has translated into basketball where it takes him longer to learn things.

“He doesn’t comprehend as quick, so that’s his biggest difficulty. Being able to switch his brain from one task to another in a split second. He does very well, but that’s what I say is one of his biggest difficulties. The coaches also like to use “terms” to punish children. For example, last year, first year, first day of practice, or second day, and David showed up a little early. The coach wanted him fifteen minutes early, and he wasn’t quite that early. The coach told him to “eat the floor” and he didn’t quite understand that the coach meant pushups. He just kind of looked at him like “what?”.” His mother explained how David acts during games.

This year, David has gotten coaches that are willing to work with him by telling him where to be and how to get there, and are keeping him in positions without a lot of variation. He works best when things are simple and explained well to him. It’s the surprise aspect that David doesn’t do well with. Despite the trouble, he’s always excited to go to practices and games. He loves to be on the court or on the track. It keeps him active and busy. As a smaller child, he’d quit every sport he attempted to do. Now, he has a drive for the sport, and that’s exactly what he needs to succeed. His mother loves to see his face light up when he does something correctly, or hearing him talk about it afterwards.

According to, a typical child with David’s condition can experience difficulty with social interactions, desire for things to stay the same, hypersensitivities, and other things alike. David has experienced most of these firsthand. A typical day for David starts with waking up for school. If he’s up early enough, he watches gaming videos until the bus arrives. After school, he tends to play his playstation.

A few times a week, he has a case worker who hangs out with him for a few hours. Together, they work on his behavior and ability to handle situations by doing things together such as going out into the public. This worker has enabled David to be able to order for himself, especially at Dunkin’ Donuts. Before, he would have a meltdown due to the stress of ordering, but now goes by himself to get what he wants, even offering to order for others.

Over the years, he has gotten better about his meltdowns and is able to explain his emotions better. When upset, though, he needs very straightforward questions or else he isn’t able to formulate an answer. Instead of asking, what did you do at practice, instead ask what kind of drills he did or if he made any baskets.

For the most part, everyone has been fairly accepting on the team. He has had some trouble, though. It is noticeable to those watching David that he is a little bit different. Because of that, he’s had to deal with bullying. The most recent one was when David was in the locker room after a tournament game. A group of kids came in and started talking to him.

“They said I was the worst on the team and stuff.” He said it didn’t feel good. David’s had to deal with comments like these for years. When people don’t understand something, they tend to make fun of it, and autism can be a complex thing. There’s always going to be parts that are unknown about the condition.

His father, Glen Race, says David’s good at calming himself down, although you can always tell when he’s had a bad day. Typically if David’s grumpy the moment he comes through the door, something happened at school that day. Either a teacher did something, one of his friends, or even something completely unrelated. Until you can get him to talk about it, he’ll be snappy. In the past, the moods would last for hours until a meltdown occurred. Now, if you can get him talking, the moods pass easily.

David has found ways to begin helping his moods pass. He either watches videos over games, or plays the games himself. Sometimes, it’s both at the same time. He spends hours a day with these games, and it always helps him, especially if he doesn’t have anyone to vent to.

For David, this method works, but not every autistic child is the same. Some respond better to pressure in the form of tight hugs, while others need time to themselves. There are no two autistic cases that are exactly the same. Sensory issues vary from child to child.

For those looking to learn how to better handle and respond to their autistic child, it’s best to do your research. The autistic spectrum is large and a child can fall anywhere on it. A child may have different sensitivities and triggers, and trial and error may be the only way to determine them. It took years for David’s parents to learn how to handle him, and they’re still working to figure it out. It’s a work in progress, but it’s still progress.

David has just finished basketball season, and wrestling season is just around the corner. His brother, Alex, has been wrestling for years, but now David thinks it’s time for him to join as well. He’s never tried it before, but is willing to accept the challenge. The busyness of a sports season keeps him occupied and puts him into a strict schedule. When things go according to schedule, all is well. It’s when he varies from the order that meltdowns occur.

He’s become more aware of his actions and how they affect other people, but it’s still very much a work in progress. He has just become a teenager, and teenagers have troubles and difficulties on their own. Now, David is involved in the mix. He’s always been aware of his autism, but is never ashamed of it. It’s a part of who he is. He doesn’t believe it makes him worth less than anyone else, it’s just an extra fact that affects how he acts.

For those looking for more information about autism or are looking for someone to talk to about it, visit The website provides information on how to diagnose early signs, common behaviors, even how to get involved. Autism Speaks is always looking to expand awareness and make the the stigma around autism even smaller.

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