Teacher Professor

January 19, 2012

Cut from the Team

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 1:52 pm
  • We can be the kings and queens of anything we believe
  • It’s written in the stars that shine above
  • A world where you and I belong
  • Where faith and love will keep us strong
  • Exactly who we are is just enough.
  • There’s a Place for Us“- Carrie Underwood

There’s that stark, crystalline moment where you realize it-  “I just don’t fit in here- and they’re asking me to leave.”  I first distinctly remember it at my last waitressing job in college- a fancy seafood restaurant.   I got to wear nice black pants and I was supposed to stand quietly and solemnly as the diners made their selections.  From the beginning I had problems- I confused the types of fish, we had an enormous number of tables, and the rhythm of the place was so different from the informal hubbub I was used to at Bennigan’s.  We were supposed to work as a “team”, but from the beginning, I never could get the timing down.  I would be running someone else’s food, which would make me late for my own tables, which would mean that the other waiters would often be getting my tables their drink orders.  I never could catch up.  When I apologized for making my “team” members wait on my tables, my explanations were perceived as excuses and there was a lot of eye rolling.  A lot of smiles that never quite reached the eyes.  Until one day- after about a month, my manager pulled me aside and said that “It’s not working out.  You’re fired.”

I was devastated.  It was the first time I had ever truly failed at something I was trying really hard at.  Now, of course, I can look back at it and learn several things from it.  First of all- the restaurant business was not for me.  I left waitressing and took a job as a paraprofessional.  And discovered teaching and special education. A potential career path closed and another one opened.  I won’t thank him, but it worked out.

The second is that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, they’re not going to like you.  Sometimes, it’s not me; sometimes, it’s the “team”.  I’ve worked with enough great teams to know that when the you’re on the right one it can be magic.  The curriculum development team at William and Mary, the CCGA program development team, heck even the bartenders at Bennigan’s… these teams all worked with me.  And I had an awful lot of fun.

The only thing I enjoyed about the fancy fish place was the shark marinated in teriyaki sauce.  Mmmm…

It happened again when James and I lived up in the Northeast.  They kept asking him to do things, and he was drowning, doing two people’s jobs as they kept promising him that they would hire someone else, but never did.  They would ask him to do something and then complain that it wasn’t right, but couldn’t tell him what he needed to do to fix it.  He learned to check in with his boss until he was perceived to be “pestering”.  We never did “fit in”- what ever that magic chemistry is – in my case, I was told is was because of my semi-Southern accent.  And in both cases, rather than taking time to fix it, both “leaders” just asked us to go.  James tried- really, really hard- and it just didn’t work.  He’s moved on, too.  We wound up here and although we won’t thank them, we’re so glad to be away from snow and ice.  And James is having a ball with the Leadership Team at CCGA.

The only thing I enjoyed about the Northeast was the clam chowder.  Mmmmm….

And now it’s happened to Elizabeth.  On an athletic “team”.  A team on which she was accepted for the whole year. She started off behind because they held a get-together before the season started; a get-together in which the parents made the carpool setups and in which emails were exchanged.  A get-together we missed because we were visiting family- family not from around here. 

Our frustration at missing key pieces of information because we were not on the email list was perceived as–whining.   When we told another parent that we didn’t think that there was practice because we didn’t get any times or dates– lying.  Her tiredness from ongoing illness — lack of commitment.  My trip to Africa and my inability to take her to practice– excuses.  Her inability to discuss conflict with a “team” member– bad attitude.  My offer to facilitate discussions and problem-solving– interference and pushiness.  Her withdrawal from the social exchanges- which led to few people giving her the ball– poor sportsmanship.  Her lack of growth in athletic skills– laziness. 

And last night, we got the phone call “This just isn’t the right place for her”. She’s off the team.  Blindsided, by the way- there is a policy that she could not be cut until next season.  But the coach decided that she wasn’t going to be part of the team–no warning, no information, no feedback, no instructions about what she could do to improve. 

I can’t help but feel that there’s a subtext here.  Although autism has not explicitly been stated, it’s there.  It’s there in the ability to know that you’re messing up, but not know how to fix it.  It’s there in the difficulty finding words to explain.  It’s there in the hoping that if you try hard enough, show up enough, and do enough, it will all work out- but it’s not enough.  It’s there in the voices of “Well, I know she’s differentand the flinches of fear- fear!- when she expresses unhappiness.

It’s the fear that gets to me- and blinds with me with rage and anger and hurt.  They should be afraid- of me, a protective mother- not of her.

She’s 10.  I was devastated at 22 when I encountered the subtle interplay within a “team” that tells you that it’s not working- and you really, really want it to.  James was devastated at 45.  We had enough experience to know that sometimes teams do work out.  That they can accept and love you and you can be productive and deal with adversity and move forward.  That there are leaders who can communicate effectively. That there’s a place for you.    That sometimes it’s not you- it’s them.

But she’s 10.  And getting cut from a “team” sure emphasizes “different”.  She’s devastated.

I can’t think of anything that I enjoyed about this.


  1. So sad to hear this!!! My heart hurts for her.

    Comment by Wendy — January 19, 2012 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

  2. Isn’t it amazing how so many people are attracted to the feel-good-Hallmark-movie-version of understanding or who post/email inspirational messages about acceptance and courage? These folks so obviously subscribe to compassion but never truly adopt it. Well, it’s not as easy as Hallmark makes it look, but it’s not as hard as it seems to be in real life either. The coach, the parents, the team — I can only imagine they each had an opportunity to turn a bad situation around, to view it from another perspective and not make “fit” the thing that creates a team but discovers the means to build a team from individuals. No “Game of His Life” here. It could have happened. I didn’t. I’m so sorry.

    Comment by Elizabeth — January 20, 2012 @ 7:12 am | Reply

  3. As a mother reading this post, I am heartbroken for your daughter. As a former educator, I am horrified, and disgusted. So many missed opportunities here. I am so, so sorry.

    Comment by autismmommytherapist — January 20, 2012 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  4. autismmommytherapist nailed it. this was so hard to read on so many levels – i’m angry and hurt and sad for you both – and for all the other kids who are missing out on so much. *hugs*

    Comment by jess — January 21, 2012 @ 8:53 am | Reply

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