Look a Little Harder, Get a Little Closer.
On any given Sunday in football season, you can come to the Redbacks home ground and you can see kids aged under 8 enjoying their Auskick experience. Running, kicking footballs, learning to catch and playing games, kids flock to the opportunity to have a go and have some fun. You don’t have to look very hard to see the smiles on their faces and you don’t have to be very close to hear the cheerful way in which they interact and laugh with each other. But get a little closer and look a little harder.
Out the back of the group you will likely find Eamon. Maybe he is kicking a footy with his Mum or Dad, maybe he is on the play equipment while no one else is there. Maybe, just maybe, he is holding his Mum or Dad’s hand and is trying to do what all the other kids are doing (these are good days). One could be forgiven for thinking that Eamon doesn’t really want to play AFL. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Eamon LOVES AFL. The only thing that makes it hard for him is, Eamon has Autism.
This is no different than saying a child has blue eyes, or is a fast runner. It doesn’t define Eamon, it’s just something he has to contend with, an attribute, and part of what makes him the person he is. It makes social times tough, sure, and that is what makes Eamon being involved in AFL difficult at times (as it does with any team sport) but that should not be confused with the love he has for this game. When Eamon is involved and enjoying it, there is no bigger smile. And to see him achieve little goals (which for Eamon could mean on a good day taking a superman mark, or even giving a person a High 5 on a not so good day) you will see him shine, while his family smile and the wider Auskick group all smile with them. Sure, there are bad days where Eamon does not want to be there and when he is there, will sit and do nothing, but he still watches and takes it all in, just from a distance. The Auskick group came to realise that when a bad day was happening, the goals just changed a bit for him. Instead of getting him involved, the aim instead was some form of interaction with people outside his family (something we are seeing more regularly now at the Redbacks with him). These are as recognised as the football goals on good days.
Eamon loves to kick and catch. He idolises his big brother who plays youth football. He likes to compete with his big sister who plays junior football. He knows he is capable. He knows he can kick and he knows he can play when he wants to. He tackles his family members when they play AFL in their backyard. He works on his handpass like any child that enjoyed AFL would. This is no different.
You want to know why we do what we do when we get involved with clubs like the Redbacks? You want to know what sponsorships help us provide? It’s all so kids get an opportunity. An opportunity to have fun. An opportunity to do what they enjoy. An opportunity to succeed. An opportunity to get active. Most importantly it’s an opportunity to be themselves and get recognised for the person they are, and be proud of that at all times, together, as friends.
So when you next are at a football game or Auskick session and you see all the kids having an awesome time getting involved together and you see the stars shining on the field, look a little closer, listen a little harder, and recognise the kids like Eamon who love the game just as much, and want so much to be involved but just need some time. Like everyone else, they just want their opportunity too and a little recognition can brighten up their day, even if their smile happens when you turn away.