Happy National Autism Awareness Month!
And to celebrate, here is a story that shows that girls and kids with “specials needs” can do anything they want if they’re determined and dare to stand up for themselves.
For anyone who knows someone on the autism spectrum
Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch. And now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team, the Flying Squirrels. And VJ starts writing back.
The story is told through the letters and e-mails sent between Vivy and VJ, a writing style I very much enjoyed. The length of the e-mails (or chapters) varies depending on who’s writing. VJ’s e-mails aren’t as long as Vivy’s, whose e-mails are sometimes multiple pages long. VJ’s letters to Vivy warmed my heart. I loved how encouraging he was to her and how they bonded about their shared love of baseball, the knuckleball, and having both faced harassment (VJ for being Black and Vivy for being autistic).
Vivy is writing these letters because it was an assignment for her social skills group. The way Vivy describes the group reminded me of a group study on autism that I went to at a major university. It was the stupidest thing I ever had to do. It was like a group of doctors were trying to teach a bunch of aliens how to act like human beings, but the doctors had no idea what they were doing, and the aliens didn’t want to be there.
So many people, including her own mother, believe that she can’t and shouldn’t play baseball because she’s a girl and has “special needs.” First off, Vivy being a girl should not be a factor in whether or not she can or should play sports. This isn’t the 1920s. Many female athletes have already proved that girls canplay sports. This shouldn’t be an issue anymore. Let’s move on.
As someone with autism, I can confirm that this story authentically represents a young girl with autism. It should be since the author is autistic. Reading about Vivy’s struggles brought back many memories of my struggles at that age. I remember how hard it was to talk to my parents about my problems because I didn’t want to worry them. It’s funny how I was so scared of upsetting others while falling apart inside. I know how hard it is to say how you are feeling and say it in a way that gets your point across.
Autism is a disadvantage in certain situations, but it can be an advantage. People with autism tend to focus their attention and energy on a particular thing. For Vivy, that thing is baseball. For me, those things are my art and whatever TV show or movie I am currently obsessed with at the time. When it comes to autistic people and our passions, we are dedicated, determined, and hard-working.
VJ Capello’s quote here says so a bit more eloquently:
“Any girl dedicated enough to work on the most untamable pitches for three years clearly has an iron will and a truly impressive work ethic.”
The bottom line is don’t try to take an autistic person away from their passion. It’s a losing battle, and why would you try to stop someone from doing what they are good at just because you disapprove.
My heart went out to Vivy whenever she broke down due to sensory overload or from feeling too much. People with autism shouldn’t feel bad about having breakdowns. Sometimes it’s the only way to express that we have reached our breaking point. I finally started to get real help after my first real freak out. So don’t shame someone for breaking down. We are already our own worst critics. We don’t need you to make us feel worse about ourselves.
The one thing that really bugged me was how Vivy was relentlessly bullied by one of the players on the team. As much as I would like to say that I wouldn’t have taken that much harassment quietly, I probably would’ve been like Vivy and kept my mouth shut. Because for some messed up reason, it’s easier to stay quiet and endure than to risk the uncertainty of telling on the person. But honestly, if I could throw a ball like Vivy and was being harassed that much, I would have thrown a ball at his head. I did throw a pencil sharpener at a boy who was giving me a hard time back in the fifth grade. It was one of those dinky plastic sharpeners, and I missed him. I’ll never forget the look of shock on his face. He didn’t bother me much after that. I think he was afraid I’d throw something heavier at him next time.
If you’re like me and have very little baseball knowledge, don’t worry. You don’t need to be a baseball fanatic like Vivy to enjoy this story. I did find the knuckleball pitch fascinating. The knuckleball is a pitch that has little to no rotation and is one of the hardest pitches to control and hit.
I recommend this book to every kid on the autism spectrum, every parent with an autistic child, and anyone who knows someone on the autism spectrum.