Meet Xander Leonard, a 14 year-old athlete from our McKinney, TX, program. Contrary to other sports or activities he tried before, “he was eager to try this one,” his mother Kara laughed. But not only has ACEing Autism benefitted Xander in many ways, “it has kept us close as a family as well. We all go to each other’s activities,” the mother of two revealed. And with ACEing Autism, “Xander feels more included because we go to his activity as well.”
Like most parents, the Leonards autism journey was far from straightforward. “I had him very young so didn’t know much about raising an infant. During his early check-ups, the nurses realized he wasn’t making sounds, and finally at the 15-month appointment, they put us in touch with an organization called ECI (early childhood intervention) that did early evaluation,” she recalled. They originally diagnosed Xander with developmental delays, and it wasn’t until he was 4 years old that the word autism was pronounced. “Nobody wanted to say that word even though I was willing to learn,” she explained.
As we look back on their journey, the ever positive mom talked about Xander’s struggles to build connections with peers his own age most of his whole life. She then goes on to explain that seeing the same children for several sessions has helped him do just that.
“He has been with the same kids for a while now so he has been able to build some relationships and these kids have now shown him baseball, which he participates in,” Kara happily shared.
Making new friends is far from the only challenge Xander has taken on. “His hand-eye coordination and his dexterity have improved a lot,” she continued. “He has been more willing to try new things and he has been more open minded as well.”
Kara is also really proud that Xander has met his new routine with more flexibility than ever before. “This is the first sport he has been in for this long,” she laughed. “It speaks volumes about the coaches!”
As the discussion continued, the energetic mother spoke about how ACEing Autism has benefitted her as well. “For me, it’s one less worry, I don’t have to discuss Xander beforehand, which takes a huge weight off my shoulders.” Beyond that, she has found a community that has accepted her and her son as they are. “It’s great to have that shared experience, and to have a place where people don’t judge you. I’ve been able to build that relationship with a couple of parents and share resources and struggles that only parents with children on the spectrum can understand.”
As I asked Kara if there was anything else she wanted to share, she promptly answered. “Oh yes, Xander has also been able to participate in the Special Olympics and that makes him feel really great. He won gold for both singles and doubles for region 10 and really enjoyed doubles,” she chuckled.
We are so proud of Xander and his family and everything they have accomplished. We can’t wait to see what he takes up next and what milestones he reaches. Congratulations!