Sunday, August 15, 2010

Miniature Golf

This summer, we have taken Alex to play miniature golf at a local course. While most families would view this type of experience as rather mundane, we see these outings as special because for us they represent life as a typical family. For several years, Alex’s unpredictable behavior made such family activities difficult, if not impossible. During the early teen years, his lack of patience would have meant having to listen to him whine repeatedly, “Oh no, this is taking too long!” Moreover, the thought of putting a golf club in his hand could have been a bit frightening. Nonetheless, he has overcome many sensory issues and has matured into a young man whose behavior is usually beyond reproach. To say that we are proud of Alex and his progress is an understatement of the joy and sense of accomplishment we feel.

When we play miniature golf, Ed shows Alex where to stand, and he stands behind Alex with his hands over Alex’s to guide his swing. Alex’s poor motor planning skills makes playing sports difficult, but he’s a remarkably good sport and not terribly competitive. He really doesn’t care that he’s not athletic. (He probably gets that from his mother.) Ed, however, wants Alex to learn the correct technique, so he patiently guides Alex into the proper swing and repeatedly reminds him to look at the ball. Alex, who is delighted to be anywhere, looks at all the people on the course and activities around him, smiling from ear to ear; the golf ball is probably his last priority. Surprisingly, for someone who loves numbers and rankings, Alex doesn’t care what par each hole has, nor what the scores are along the way. He’s just happy to be there. On our most recent outing, Alex somehow managed to get a hole-in-one, which pleased him, but not as much as watching the little kids ahead of him playing miniature golf. For Alex, the best part of the course is the opportunity at the end to win a free game. After the eighteenth hole, players drop their golf balls in a wooden box with various blocks that guide the ball to the end. This contraption looks like an inverted pinball game; it reminds Alex of his favorite game on The Price Is Right, Plinko, where players drop round disks onto the Plinko board, and depending on where the disks land, they win that amount of money. If the golf ball lands in the right spot, the player wins a free game of miniature golf for the next visit; earlier in the summer, Alex and I both won free games by having our golf balls land precisely in the right spot.

For Alex, the real highlight of our trip to the miniature golf course is a visit to the adjoining arcade. Despite all the sensory overload of flashing lights, loud noises, and crowds of people, he loves playing the games and can focus on the task at hand. Because he plays the video game Pac Man at home, he likes playing the Ms. Pac Man arcade game there; it’s familiar to him. While his motor issues impede his golf game, his hand-eye coordination for video games is amazingly good. His favorite game at the arcade is Deal or No Deal, based on the game show of the same name that he watches nearly every day on the Game Show Network. We have learned to predict that Alex will always reject the banker’s offer of a deal to buy the money case he has chosen because this makes the game last longer. He isn’t as interested in the amount he wins; he just likes playing the game. The last time we were there, I noticed a woman pleasantly watching Alex, who was happily engaged in a game of Deal or No Deal. She motioned me over and handed me a large number of tickets to be cashed in for prizes that she had won playing arcade games herself. She said to me, “I’d like your boy to have these.” Touched by her act of kindness, I told Alex that a nice lady had given him her tickets. Alex used her tickets and the ones he’d won himself to select two prizes—a stuffed turtle and a rainbow-colored plastic Slinky, both of which he carried around for several days as a souvenir of the fun he had that day. While at times I am tempted to feel sorry for Alex because of his difficulties with language, social, and motor skills, I realize that God has blessed him with an increased capacity for happiness—Alex finds great joy in simple things, teaching us to appreciate them, as well.

“Yes, joyful are those who live like this! Joyful indeed are those whose God is the Lord.” Psalm 144:15


Mom said...

"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," one of my favorite lines from _Steel Magnolias_ , comes to mind as I read this---while laughing out loud, with tears in my eyes. Pam, I've often thought of you as a "steel magnolia"---strong, but still soft and gentle.

Big Daddy said...

I enjoy seeing pictures of Alex since he looks like a bigger version of my son. Griffin is 13 (autistic) and holds his arms and stands just like Alex does in your photos. Brings a smile to my face.

Fred Haeberle said...

I'm with Alex, I would rather watch the people and all the activity than worry about a score. I guess that explains why I only enjoyed outdoor sports where "winning" isn't an issue, such as fishing. It seems most young people today are handicapped by not finding joy in the simple things. You and Alex can teach us a lot. Does Alex have a camera? I think he sees what many people pass without seeing.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, Mom, Big Daddy, and Fred, for your comments! Poor Ed didn't get an athlete for a son, but he got an awfully good sport. Big Daddy, is your son tall and thin like Alex? I think Alex doesn't know what to do with his long arms. Fred, your idea of a camera is a really good one. I may try that and see what he comes up with. If nothing else, it should make for a good idea for a blog entry! :)
Take care,