A child with autism is sometimes hard to please. There is only so much a child can do in the backyard, and even planned activities, such as an afternoon at the movies, can end in disaster. Organized sports can offer a little excitement if your kid is able to follow along and process the concept of the game, but if not, you could be right back in Disaster City. This can be daunting on the child and add a heaping helping of stress for the parents.
McClane Fieldgrove was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, but his symptoms were obvious much earlier. At nearly eight years old, he has never spoken a proper word, but he works hard on it, whether it is in his classroom or during his in-home therapy. He doesn’t interact with other children and he usually spends his afternoons in the backyard on his swing or in the pool, if it’s warm enough.
If you were to tell him to hold a baseball bat, stand at home plate and swing when the ball is thrown at him, he probably wouldn’t even grab the bat, or if he did, it would be a struggle followed by a meltdown…so baseball is out. Tell him to kick a ball into a net and he would run right on by it and not even give you or the ball a second look. So much for soccer.
Teamwork isn’t his strongest asset. Nor is organization or, well, paying attention. So, what to do?
Christmases for McClane are different than most Christmases for kids. He doesn’t understand, nor does he care, about presents. To him, Christmas is just another day, except his Mom and I actually cook something and the grandparents come over. But still, he’s got to get presents. So, one Christmas, I bought him the limited edition Bart Simpson skateboard by Santa Cruz, and this skateboard was to be kept and displayed safely in my office.
Brilliant! McClane got to open a big gift, and I got that skateboard I really wanted but couldn’t convince myself to buy without proper reasoning.
But then a funny thing happened…
Before hanging the skateboard on my wall, McClane began laying on it and rolling from one end of the kitchen to the other. Over and over, decorating the kitchen with bookended holes on the wall.
He was playing on a skateboard!
So, what was the next logical step? Letting him roll down the driveway?
Maybe, but as my Dad always said, if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly. So, it was off to the local skate park for us. And wouldn’t you know it, he loved it.
Skateboarders often get a bad rap, whether it be because of the clothes they wear or just the way they look in general. Movies and media has often portrayed the skateboard kids as punks, as thugs on wheels, causing havoc wherever they roam, but you know what? You’ll never find a more welcoming community than the skateboard community. Out there, at the skate park, everyone is a friend, an equal. I have said ‘hi’ to more strangers-in-passing there in the past year than I have anywhere else over the course of my life.
Everyone is there for a good time, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an expert busting out gravity-defying tricks, or a novice who can barely even stand on the board. It even doesn’t matter if you’re a seven-year-old, severely autistic boy who can’t speak, who just wants to sit on his skateboard, with his flip-fops on, and go down the ramps.
At the skate park, everyone is an equal and everyone is welcomed. There is no reason to be intimidated. So, because of this, The McClane Gang was formed.
What is The McClane Gang, you ask?
Simple. It is a group of families with special needs children who can meet up at the skate park and let their children participate in a sport that doesn’t actually involve teamwork. It allows the child to feel a sense of freedom, while still interacting with others, and it’s a sneaky way to get in some good old fashioned occupational therapy. Adults, teens, random skaters, and parents can get out there with the kids and help them learn to skate. They can help the kids stand and balance, and they can give the children a sense of accomplishment. And most importantly, they can show the children a great time. And as an added bonus, every volunteer who has ever helped one of these amazing kids skate has had nothing but a positive reaction to it. It’s fun for the helpers, it’s a breakthrough for the children, and it can be a huge relief to Mom and Dad.
As of right now, The McClane Gang is located locally in Bakersfield, California, but there is no reason that anyone couldn’t start his/her own chapter. Start a McClane Gang in Ohio, in Montana, in Tennessee, or literally anywhere. Most cities have a skate park, and if they don’t have one, all cities have skaters. Find them, see where they go, and start there. Check out your local skate shop and pick up a pre-assembled board. Don’t have a local skate shop? Try Target or Amazon. Want to fundraise and raise money to buy boards and safety gear for kids in the community? That works, too! Start a T-shirt sale on Booster.com. We have several McClane designs you can use!
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Grant Fieldgrove is a writer from Bakersfield, CA, who, along with his wife Julie, founded The McClane Gang with the hopes of helping as many special needs children as possible. You can follow The McClane Gang on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themcclanegang, on Instagram @TheMcClaneGang or you can email us directly at TheMcClaneGang@gmail.com
This article was featured in Issue 52 – Celebrating the Voices of Autism