Finding the Balance



My son's anxiety prevents him from participating in many activities. We've tried several sports. I take him kicking and screaming (at first) and force him to play these games that he clearly has no intrest in. I keep thinking "but it's for his own good". Is it?

One of his problems is tracking quite frankly. In soccer he was more interested in the lines on the gym floor. With baseball his attention was everywhere but on the ball. The sensory overload is just too much. So I stopped forcing him.

Recently we thought about cub scouts. One of the school moms mentioned it to me for a second time this week. There was a meeting this evening that I hoped to attend but difficult child begged and pleaded, tears streaming down his face, not to make him go. It's too hard, please don't make me... see this is what I mean about you making my life so awful (his words).

I'm really torn between how far to encourage these extra curricular activites. Maybe surviving school is all he can handle. I just don't know if I'm doing the right thing as his mom by allowing him to avoid all of these things that most kids would love to be a part of. I realize that respecting their lead is important. But if I wait for him to take the lead on deciding what to support, we'd never leave the comfort of our home. Even going to the store is an act of pulling teeth.

I just wondered if anyone else encountered this dilemma and how you handled it. How much to guide and how much to leave them alone.



New Member
Well, I have a bit of anxiety like that, at first... It's insano hard for me to get out of the house, but once I do, I'm usually alright.

That's about the extent of experience I have... I'm wondering if he would like acting school. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure why, I just had a feeling. It's a bit less stimulating than sports, so...

Also, maybe he's just not ready for extracurricular activities. He is still young...

Stupid question: Have you asked him if there was anything in specific he had in mind? Maybe if you give him a list of choices, he'll settle on trying one. :p

You say he liked the lines at the soccer games... Maybe he would be a volunteer to help paint them! Hey, it's a start, right?

Good luck in whatever happens. Keep us updated. <3 :flower:


Well-Known Member
I think, given your son's reaction, I would back off on all extra curricula for now. He's probably having a hard enough time going back to school. Instead, I would try to help him by setting up a daily routine before and after school so he doesn't fall into the video games/computer/tv trap with so much free time. Then, I would attempt to foster one-on-one friendships rather than group activities.

Sara PA

New Member
Put yourself in his place. How would you feel if you were forced to do something you had no interest in doing, flat didn't want to do AND you were expected to enjoy it?

Kids with anxiety who have to go to school all day long need space to rest and regroup before facing school the next day. They need time to do what they like doing, what they feel calm and good doing.

Forcing him to participate in activities he doesn't want to do isn't going to be fun for him, it's torture.


Thanks, ladies. I haven't been pushing him to do these things. I stopped the sports about a year ago and didn't force the scouts thing tonight. I was just feeling like a "bad mom" for not being a stronger parent by being more adamant about it. But hearing your viewpoints, I'm doing the right thing.

Funny you said that Shakespear. My son does enjoy dressing up and play acting. He loves wearing my clothes (another story ha) and he and I do our little performances. He has a girlfriend and they dress up and act out scenes as well. But he's too shy to actually go to an acting class where he might actually get noticed! My son is about staying under the radar.

I just want him to have some fun and enjoyment in his life. And yes, I want to avoid the tv/video game trap.

He enjoys cooking and crafting. But perhaps in time other interests will emerge.



Hound dog

Nana's are Beautiful
Not every child needs sports and groups to be happy and well rounded. Each of my kids had a one season opportunity to try a sport. We couldn't afford more than that. All three picked something different.

easy child was the only one to do another sport and get into school social activities. She loved that sort of thing.

They held no interest for Nichole whatsoever, nor Travis. Their interests were elsewhere.

If he enjoys crafts, later on you might ask if he'd like to take an art class, or learn to do ceramics, make pottery. He may be a more creative soul than a sporty soul.



Michele, would he enjoy some kind of craft class WITH you? Here there are some classes through the local museum. It is for all family members, not just kids. Maybe being with him can ease him into something in the future.


Well-Known Member
My difficult child does not want to do any extra activities anymore. Her dad said we should force her. Pretty difficult to do with a 16 year old - LOL!

It does not make you a bad mom if he chooses not to do something extra.
There are people (mostly people that were involved as a kid) that believe being involved keeps the kids out of trouble. I do believe that - I was very involved. It did help ME stay out of trouble. But that is not the only way to keep kids out of trouble. I am thankful my difficult child is now working - it is doing something.

Mrs Smith

New Member
We have the same experience. My son used to do things with family when he was younger but now that he's a teen, forget it. Neurodev pediatrician says encourage but don't force.


Active Member
I think for these kids these extra curricular activities are very stressful. I would not force him to go, but instead keep searching for things that might interest him. Just casually throwing out to him a kid's event that is coming up in town, or a science club that is forming, just so he knows there are things to do if he wants, but that they are his choice. If he always chooses no, I would not worry too much about it. He will find his way and calling in life......


My difficult child reacts the same as yours and I felt, like you, that I should get her involved in something...not because that's what kids do, but because I wanted her to socialize, etc. She would have none of it until she found something she really liked and was good at: gymnastics. I never had to drag her there.

So, get some info from your parks & rec department on different activities that they have and let him see if there is anything he is interested in. It doesn't have to be sports, it could be anything.


Well-Known Member
Another vote for your decision not to force your child into extracurricular activities. With anxiety and possible AS signs to deal with, school is already a lot of interaction, and an after-school group activity might just be too much for him.

We never enrolled difficult child in sports, but he was a cub scout. My SO was Akela (or whatever the scout leader is called), so daddy was always there for him, otherwise he would have hated it.

Lately, difficult child has been doing things like going to the local pottery shop to make bowls and things, and attending cooking classes. He loves that. If your son is interested in crafts, your local library or museum, or even Home Depot might have programs in which you and your son can participate.

All the best,


Active Member
I'm giving fair warning, this reply is going to be long. This is a complex issue and we've well and truly been there done that.

Michele, this is going to have to be an entire chapter in my book on raising kids with autism. This is yet another example where generally you have to remove your child from a social situation where everybody else says he should be, to benefit. And also, in your case, another reason for you to use autism in some form as your working hypothesis.

I understand why you want him to participate - left to his own devices he would come home from school and settle in front of the computer games and totally zone out. You don't want him zoning out, you want him as involved in the world and life as possible. Besides, everyone says that he needs social interaction in order to learn how to interact.

Now I am going to attack that last sentence. There is a very strong belief in the need to force socialisation onto kids with autism. Therapists, doctors, teachers, family - they all say that the autistic child who has difficulty with social skills and social interaction will benefit from being pushed into it. But this is wrong because it is based on a false premise - that kids with autism can learn social skills purely by osmosis. This is simply not the case - if they could, then they wouldn't be autistic (by definition).

One of the hallmarks of autism is poor social skills. Generally this is because the child lacks the innate ability to learn to socialise the way everybody else does - purely by ongoing contact with others. For these kids, they need to be formally taught how to socialise, in the same way they are formally taught that Quito is the capital of Ecuador. You can't just shove these kids into the mix and expect it to work.

If you can, find out about Sixth Sense. It's a way of explaining autism to other children, to help them support an autistic classmate. Very effective at helping family understand, too.

In a classroom setting, learning is more formal. The children sit at desks, a teacher supervises classwork and often talks to the children about the topic. There are a number of other children in the room, most about the same age although with more variation in ability. These kids will ask questions; they will quietly chat; they will sniff, cough, sneeze, breathe heavy, sigh, scrape their chairs, tap their pencils, kick the table leg. Outside the clouds may be blowing across the sky, the trees flapping in the wind, bird screeching past, wind whistling, rain falling, sun shining and reflecting off shiny things outside and inside; meanwhile the teacher is talking.
Trying to absorb information and consolidate it in this highly distracting atmosphere is tricky. Worksheets get handed out but getting started is difficult with all the distraction. By the time the child finally gets his head sorted out, the teacher is saying, "OK, put your pens down, hand over your sheets and we will begin a new topic."
Then comes playtime. There are rules. You don't push and shove as you head out the door because if you shove the wrong person you will get clobbered. But other kids are shoving each other and the others are smiling - why is that?
A ball game is going on. Stand and watch - what are the rules? The other kids seem to understand without anybody saying what the rules are. As you watch you begin to understand - but no, something unexpected has happened, your analysis of the rules must be mistaken. The game has now changed to a different game, but nobody said anything. How do the other kids know to change too, without needing to ask?

A lot of deep thinking is going on. In the midst of all this, maybe another child comes up and says, "Do you want to play with us?"
"What are the rules?" you ask, because if you know the rules you can play properly.
"Just the standard handball, but only one bounce."
You try and analyse what that means, within your own mental framework of "handball". Asking for a more detailed explanation will only lead to being left out because to involve you is too much trouble; you take a risk and decide to try to analyse the rules as the game progresses.
If the game changes during play, you get angry because it seems that the other kids are cheating. Someone pushes you, you push back. This can quickly escalate to a fight. A teacher intervenes, the other kids say, "he wasn't playing by the rules, sir."

By the time you go back to class, your mind is agitated, you are feeling sick, you are breathing heavy, you are frustrated and angry. Your teacher speaks firmly to you but your head is so full you didn't hear the words. You throw something, you get sent to the principal's office. The principal asks, "What is wrong?" and you just don't know.

You come home from school. It has been a bad day, but almost all days are like this. Why is is so easy for the other kids?
Then your mother says, "We're going to the sports field to sign you up for football."
You like running around with the wind blowing, but you don't want to be around too many other people after the day you've had. You just want to be left alone to tune out and let all the information of the day sink in to your brain and slowly sort itself out. You need to tune out to let this happen. You're tired, you can't think, you don't want to have to load your brain up with any more.

Can you see your son's feelings and confusion in this?

As parents, we do our best to keep our kids stimulated mentally and physically. We want them to have friends, we want them to be happy, we want them to be fit and healthy, we want them to learn and do well. But our autistic kids can overload so easily. But if we sit back and let them tune out, are we letting the autism take control? it's not a simple answer.

When playing a team sport, there are a lot of difficulties for an autistic child. Learning the rules of the game is t he easy part; interacting with all the team members appropriately is much more tricky. There is jargon speech to learn; colloquialisms which take time for an autistic bran to process ("chuck the ball this way, yer nong," said on the fly past, take a vital few seconds to analyse, by which time the child has been tacked and the ball knocked out of his hands.) There is fear of seeming like a dummy because of this; fear of letting the team down; fear of getting it wrong. All this, after a day of it.

Even if it's something he loves, there can be problems. difficult child 3 is musically gifted. He was playing piano as a toddler. I taught him the basics and also showed him how to find the notes and how to read music. When I started him on formal piano lessons he loved it. His teacher was amazed and found he did especially well with music theory. But he had to practice, and coming home from a stressful day of school, the last thing he wanted was routine rehearsal. He wanted to lose all that and switch off his brain for a while.

So eventually we stopped his piano lessons. I couldn't stop school, I couldn't reduce his stress levels there, all I could do was reduce stress elsewhere. Even his beloved piano lessons were a stress factor.

Something I've found with both boys - they NEED their computer games. When they're stressed, depressed, feeling overloaded- I let them lose themselves in their games for a while at least, because it really does seem to help their brain consolidate in other areas. But we have set limits - gaming is only allowed during certain hours and only when other chores are done. No gaming during school hours. We timetable in game time. When they're stressed more than usual, we make sure they have something with them that can soothe them - either a portable game, or for difficult child 3 the iPod with his favourite music programmed in. We've even been on holiday (which he finds stressful) and had to sit difficult child 3 down in a public area (at an animal exhibition at a zoo) in such a way that he could tune out the other people there (with his back to people, his ears blocked or listening to the iPod) and able to tune out everything else by doing a sheet of maths work.

But surely school is stressful for him? Not the academic stuff, when it's as concrete as maths. More waffly subjects such as English lit appreciation, history etc will stress him, but anything concrete is great for calming him down.

While we were waiting at the hospital for him to get his head stitched, we let him play on his Nintendo DS. It kept him calm, under the (nasty) circumstances, it soothed his fear and anger to controllable levels. A toddler sitting nearby was getting on his nerves, but we were better able to deal with that because difficult child 3 had his games available.

What your child can cope with will depend on your child, and what else he has to cope with. When difficult child 3 was ill or being bullied, his coping skills went out the window. If we didn't know what was wrong, we had to go digging into his social environment at the school. I had a few 'spies' among his classmates, I would go to them and ask them what they had been observing. They always gave me a clearer picture than even his teachers could.

difficult child 3 no longer plays team sports. We had him enrolled in "touch football" but when the season ended we did not renew. Socially it was too challenging for him and physically it was too hard on me - the other kids were unsupervised, difficult child 3 was constantly in danger of either being bullied, or of being accused of hitting someone. Even when I could vouch for his whereabouts, other parents would try to blame difficult child 3 for starting misbehaviour that I was reporting as a concern.
I would say, "There are some kids over behind the shed, throwing rocks."
"Well so what? My son said your kid has been throwing rocks too."
I needed to be able to say with confidence, "No he hasn't, because I know exactly where he's been for every second of the time down here at the playing field."
For me to keep difficult child 3 constantly in my sight was hard work for me and made him feel like he was under suspicion.

Now difficult child 3 gets his exercise by going for a walk often (or did, until his incident with the kids throwing things at him). We now go out together (I force him to, but stay within sight of him). He will go back to riding his bike when I dare get it fixed. We go for walks into the bush with a camera. He helps his father working on the mini train tracks on Saturdays. We walk on the beach. In summer he swims and surfs.

But no team sports. difficult child 3 will visit a friend but if other kids turn up, he comes home when the numbers begin to climb.

Sometimes on school study days (the only time he ever attends any school) one of the teachers will play a ball game with him, shoot some baskets, get him running around. He is a bit unco, I think it's part of the syndrome, but we have accepted that he is not going to the Olympic Games except as a computer technician in some area.

difficult child 3 is thin, like a stick figure. He gets most of his exercise worrying, I feel. The more we can keep his anxiety under control, the more social challenge he can handle. But he still lags a long way behind others of his age - the gap has been widening, we do what we can to reduce the gap but simply shoving him in with other kids - that was making the gap wider, not narrower. he is doing far better now than when we forced him into social contact.

difficult child 3's autistic friend as a little different - his mother keeps a fairly open house, neighbourhood kids are always dropping in. He's always been used to a range of different kids on his turf, he seems to cope with it. His autism isn't as bad as difficult child 3's but even he has times when he shuts himself in his room rather than play.

And difficult child 1 - he was even more withdrawn than difficult child 3. I remember at difficult child 1's birthday party when I had invited his whole class - difficult child 1 was inside in his room while the party went on outside without him.

difficult child 3 has never had a birthday party like that - family only is all we've been able to do.

You need to get into your own kid's head, get a really good feel for what he is trying to cope with, and make your decision accordingly. It is better to challenge only a little, than to really force the issue. Maybe get him on friendly terms with one of the other kids playing sport, then go and watch to cheer the friend on. Stay with him.

I've had to take the approach of my child being what I call a genius five year old. He's 13. He's coping with schoolwork at his age level - doing well, now. But socially he's like a five year old and needs that level of support and supervision. Constant coaching, praise, encouragement is what we do. I shadow him (or make sure he's shadowed) as you would for any five year old. He visits his friend without me but I often drop in and talk to the other mum while our boys play together. difficult child 3's friends all tend to be years younger than him, he copes better socially.

Don't force things too much. Take things slowly, gently and in small pieces. Each small success is a wonderful achievement. But you must recognise - life for these kids is a HUGE task. They need help to learn the social rules and still need stimulation on the areas they can achieve well.

Sorry for taking so long but I hope this helps.




Thank you sooo much everyone. I really appreciate your responses.

Marg, your insight always helps me.

I have a lot to think about for sure.

I like the idea of walks for exercise as I need it too.

Again, thank you all so much.