Originally published June 7, 2010
“But the moment you turn a corner you see another straight stretch ahead and there comes some further challenge to your ambition.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~Albert Einstein
Gus perseverates, as do many other people along the autism spectrum. This means that they will repeat a particular phrase, motion or behavior for, what might seem to an outsider, no cause. What I find interesting is that he easily perseverates, but perseverance comes so much harder.
Over the past several weeks, Gus and MM have been running different races that we find through the Runners club. Kids their age generally either run a mile or 1K (.6 mile). I have to say, some of those runs are killers. For Gus, with his low muscle tone and endurance, it is beyond challenging. He often wants to quit, and I can hardly blame him. Add the fact that he is almost always in last place, far behind his little sister, and I have to ask myself, “why keep him doing it?”
Simple: he has to learn. Sticking with an obsession is no great feat for him; however, his life is going to be chock full of things that he wants to do but are monumentally hard. Most things are going to be hard for him, from making friends to managing whatever career he chooses. Learning to stick with the things that he most wants to quit will help him a great deal as he grows. Running will also build endurance and will continue to build his focus.
The strategies that have worked best to keep him going have been:
- Constant, constant, constant encouragement – even when I am having trouble catching my own breath, it helps us both to keep up the litany of you can do it‘s.
- Not going it alone – while Gus is probably okay to run some of these tracks alone, I think it helps, especially since he is often at the end of the pack, to have someone with him, even if it’s just for company.
- A sense of humor – Gus finds it highly amusing when I pretend to be a zombie chasing him.
- Shifting tactics – when zombie chasing stops motivating him, we switch to pretending to be Sonic the Hedgehog or some other character. If that starts to lose power, we sing a song or start to build in some competition. It’s always good to have a readied arsenal of motivating tricks to draw on, especially with someone whose focus changes so rapidly.
- Small steps – instead of focusing on the end markers, which we usually can’t see, we shoot for each turning flag. When we reach one, we can shift our gaze to the next.
- Competition – Gus is nowhere near as competitive as his sister, yet even he hates to lose. I tell him as long as he stays ahead of me, he’s not last. When all else fails, I start to pull ahead a little and challenge him to pass me, and he does.
None of these are revolutionary ideas, and they apply to many people in many situations, but they bear repeating because sometimes we forget.
Every race sees him getting better and better at persevering through the miles. One day I expect he’ll be able to do it without me on his heels – he’ll have his own internal motivator. Then I can just wait for him at the finish line and cheer my head off with all the breath in me. Until then, we keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Update 12/11: Gus has since gotten much stronger as a runner. Where he used to come in dead last, he is now finishing races in the middle of the pack, and he has even run a race or two on his own, without someone shadowing him. In the year and a half that he’s been working at this, although he still struggles with endurance, he has expressed an interest in training for a 5K race. Hopefully, we’ll reach that goal in the spring.
Update 8/2013: Gus has done well at the 5K distances. The running season is about to kick off, and he expressed an interest in doing even longer races (5 mile and 10Ks). The most exciting thing is that he wants to try out for his school’s Cross Country team. Hopefully, he will qualify. Wish him luck!