It’s that time again… the Olympics! It’s when we get to see so many incredible athletes that are at the top in their individual sports...whether swimming, gymnastics, cycling, or long distance running. Many think that all of these competitors must have natural talents and abilities, and of course there are certain body types that align better with specific sports. However, one key factor that we don’t see with these Olympians or any great athlete for that matter, is the hours, days, months and years they dedicate to practicing.
When people come to visit Artistas Café, many of them have a hard time believing that the team that works at the Café have Autism. Some even rationalize that they must be really high functioning or have just a “touch of autism” to do all the tasks at the Café so proficiently and interact so well with guests. What they don’t realize is the time and dedication these team members have given to overcoming the challenges associated with autism.
At the Café, we create a safe and supportive work environment that allows our students to learn skills that will not only serve them at the Café, but anywhere they go. These skills include interacting with guests, multi-tasking, working in a team environment and making a variety of beverages (to name a few).
Once they learn these skills, the element that takes them to the next level is practice, practice, practice. Over time, what seemed like a very difficult task becomes easier and easier. In fact, we tell them “it’s like learning to ride a bike”. When you first learned to ride a bike, you were a little shaky and needed to think about everything you needed to do….pedal, hold on the handlebars, balance and brake! You likely even started with training wheels, to give you support as you learned these skills. However, after a few weeks, or even days you were riding your bike without even thinking about how it all came together.
When Ray, one of our Artistas, started at the Café, he looked down at the ground more than directly at you. His previous role had been as a volunteer shredding paper in a back room so it didn’t allow him to necessarily develop skills like eye contact or processing information quickly to respond in conversation. Fast forward to today. If you visit the Café, Ray will look you squarely in the eye to take your order and give you one of his amazing smiles. You can also hear him bantering back and forth with guests. What did Ray do? He practiced day in and day out until these skills became second nature to him.
I have often heard parents talk about what their child or young adult can’t do. Most of the time, these are things that are associated with the autism diagnosis. Things like “my son just doesn’t have good eye contact” or “my daughter takes too much time to respond to questions she’s asked”. It’s almost as if what we see in front of us is all that will ever be. We forget the potential to learn and create new habits and skills just by the sheer fact of practice!
Many of you have probably heard of the Michael Jordan story. Michael got cut from his high school basketball team because he wasn’t good enough. All this did was motivate him to practice, practice, and practice some more until he went on to dominate the NBA and become what some consider to be the best athlete of our generation. This is probably a similar story to what you might hear from many of the Olympians at this year’s games.
Next time you think about your child or even your student’s inability to do something, consider that they just might not know how to do the task. Even if they have been exposed to it in the past, they may not have had enough time to practice until it becomes a good habit or skill. But one look at the Olympians, or even our Artistas, should be a good reminder that nothing is out of reach!