6 mins read

How to Explain Negative Cheering to a Child with Autism

Our child has been to numerous sporting events ever since he was a baby. We never let autism get in the way of taking him with us to a sporting event (or anywhere public).

Especially a baseball game.

My husband attends a fair number of Dodger games each year and often takes our child.

Our son is now twelve and is finally beginning to appreciate watching the game (instead of spending the whole time watching a DVD). He’s even attended a game or two without his bag of goodies (drawing paper, DVD and headphones, Smartphone).

He cheers for the Dodgers and does so (sometimes) quite loudly and with much exuberance.

He’s attended a few non-Dodger games, mostly at spring training in Arizona (our yearly sojourn).

Recently, he was with us when we attended a game in San Diego—the Dodgers verses the San Diego Padres. This game was literally an eye opener for our very literal child.

What happened?

We were attending the game with some family members, celebrating the birthday of a family member by going to a baseball game.

We had good seats, on the field level, down the 3rd base line, and thirteen rows up.

Even though we had good seats, there were two times when my son hung out near the railing. He did this because he wanted some space and needed to regulate his body. (In times past, he would request to go walking around in order to get a break.)

As long as he wasn’t blocking anyone (and, he wasn’t), we allowed him to stay along the railing.

Turns out, while he was at the railing, our son was receiving unwelcome and rather surprising input, part of it turned out to be educational but also upsetting.

What happened?

Apparently, our son was very used to rooting for his home team at Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t the only location he had been to, but now that he was focusing on being a “real” fan, cheering was now a part of his arsenal. He cheered for his club and so did the fans around him.

What threw him for a loop at this Padres game was the negative cheering. Padre fans were jeering at the Dodger players.

This is quite common in the sporting world, fans heckle.

Still, I think my son had never really listened to the heckling before, nor did it happen much at Dodger Stadium.

Well, it not only happened at this Padre game, but my son didn’t like it.

What did he do?

First of all, he told us that something was bothering him.

He said he wanted to know why some Padre fans were trying to make Dodger fans feel bad. They had made him feel bad. He wanted to know why they were doing that.

In one way, this was great news for us. Our child was describing his feelings.

He told us that he didn’t understand why the Padre fans were being so mean to the Dodger players and, seemingly, to the Dodger fans. Some of the things he heard had hurt his feelings. In his experience, fans didn’t behave like that.

What made it worse was when the scoreboard flashed a “Beat LA” sign and the Padre fans began to sing “Beat LA.”

When talking to us after the game, he said he was sad and confused.

At least, he talked about it. And, he did a great job of explaining himself.

What did we tell him?

First, I told him my opinion on the Padre organization flashing the “Beat LA” sign. I told him that I didn’t like it because it meant that the organization began the negative cheers. I felt that they should be above that kind of thing.

Second, our entire group discussed with him different ways how “mean” fans cheer. We told him that people like that pick on opponents’ players, they heckle, and try to rile. That’s just what some fans do.

Third, I told my son that it’s okay not to like it, and it’s perfectly fine to talk to us about it, but, most importantly, he has to learn not take it personally.

I also suggested that he don’t react to it directly to the person(s) doing it. No good can come of that.

What did we take away from this experience?

My son said he had a good time at the game, but he was surprised not only by what he was hearing but by his reaction to it. He’s becoming more and more of a baseball fan every day, and he said he didn’t realize how sensitive he was to negative cheering.

Plus, he was zooming in on what other people were saying. He was realizing that it’s not always pretty.

Our son has to learn how to gage what people are saying and why.

Also, especially in this situation, it’s best to ignore people who are cheering negatively.

Finally, our son had an experience, he dealt with it by discussing it, and he learned something.

It may have not been the best experience he’s ever had, but it was an experience. A valuable one.

He was confused about why people cheer in a negative way. But, he fought through it, and (apparently) moved on.

Until the next baseball game!

More on Kimberly Kaplan:
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