Autism, Football, and Apples – Finding Cooper’s Voice

I love football. I don’t remember ever not loving football.

I can’t tell you when that love started because it has always been part of my life. Growing up, Sundays consisted of going to church, making a great Sunday dinner, getting together with family and watching the Denver Broncos.

One of my favorite memories of my Dad is running back and forth throughout the house while he threw me passes.

My love for football has grown and changed over the years. Like any dad, I hope that I can share my passions with my children.

I pray that they may have some interest and engagement with the things I love. I’ve been lucky in that my children have engaged with some things I love, like star wars, and pasta.

Interest and engagement with my autistic son Jesse is always at the extreme.

There are times when he loves something and the next day he might have only a passing interest in it. I have tried playing catch, which he will do for a very small period of time. We have played “tackle football” but it mostly just turns into him jumping on me instead of running with the ball.

Some Sundays, Jesse may attempt to watch TV with me, then he’ll realize I’m watching football, and move on to other things he enjoys more. If I had to guess, I don’t think this experience would be different for any other kid in his age range. However, there have been multiple times this year where he has actively watched a game with me.

It tends to work best when combined with one of his passions…apples.

Alright, maybe passion is too strong of a word but this kid does love apples. He eats at least one a day and there are plenty of days where he will eat 3-4 if we let him.

However, there are a lot of times where all he eats is half an apple. I did not realize that one of the great “joys” of being Jesse’s dad would be discovering all the places where I might find half an apple.

Oh look, I just found a half-eaten apple in the couch, under the bed, and in my sock drawer? Sometimes I laugh and other times I just shake my head. The joys of parenting.

On a couple of occasions during football season, Jesse would come sit on my lap and eat his apple. I would hear the crunch of the apple as he began to dig in.

He would watch the game as he munched away.

He might laugh when there is a big hit or start running around the house after a big play. It is hard to tell if he is just stimming or if he is trying to mimic what he just saw. Either way, it doesn’t matter because for that brief moment I get to share my love of football with Jesse. Even if it means I have to pick up the half-eaten apple he just dropped.


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