AUTISM ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT
Each month we feature an athlete on the autism spectrum and share their story. Dispelling the myth that children on the autism spectrum cannot be athletes; this is what drives us, to introduce the sport of lacrosse to children with autism to take them places they never thought possible.
Meet Isabella (Izzy) Shaw, 13, from Kingwood, TX.
In Izzy's own words:
"I am Izzy, a lacrosse goalie, viola player, PreAP student, and I also love to draw digital art and paint. I enjoy science and reading. I'm quiet and shy, until I get to know you and then I'm loud and silly. When I first began playing lacrosse in 4th grade I was nervous. Catching the ball was really difficult and I didn't know if I'd ever learn. But I kept trying and returned to practice."
Izzy , who has an older sister with Level 2 Autism, was diagnosed herself in 2016 with Level 1 Autism. "Autism levels help care givers, doctors and therapists have a clearer understanding of the limitations and strengths of a person with autism. The DSM-IV has 5 distinct diagnoses from Asperger's Syndrome (high functioning) to autistic disorder (severe autism) which requires substantial caregiving and support." (Lisa Jo Rudy; Lyndsey Garbi, M.D. 2020).
Having an older sister with autism helped her mother look for possible signs; for Izzy it was "toe walking" commonly seen as a neurological maturity issue, sensory issues with food, pragmatic speech delays, sensory processing disorder and retained Moro Reflex issues. Proper diagnosis by a neurologist, speech and OT therapy and awesome family support has helped Izzy deal with and even overcome her issues with autism. Social issues and anxiety, common issues for children with autism, Izzy deals with daily. Lacrosse has helped her tremendously with social and communication skills and "if I had a bad day, lacrosse practice turns it around for and ends with a smile".
Izzy was active as a child enrolling in gymnastics at age 3, "my mom couldn't keep me from crashing onto the furniture and hanging upside down". Gymnastics became a therapy of sorts helping with balance and core strength and proving that children with autism can be active and healthy children. She went on to p[ay soccer but did not enjoy it. Fortunately she had a 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Krach, who introduced her to lacrosse; telling stories about games he coached in class and introducing her to lacrosse. Just as gymnastics became therapy, so has lacrosse, allowing her to "blow off steam" and frustration, continue work on coordination, social interaction and processing information quicker.
Izzy plays for Kingwood Youth Lacrosse playing both field positions most recently her favorite position, goalie. Her coaches and teammates are an amazing support system understanding her autism and what she needs. Encouraging her to try new things, always positive about her abilities, and using different ways of teaching that she can process. Without the positivity of coaches and teammates, "I probably wouldn't be playing". Trying new things, something children with autism struggle with, has not stopped her. While Covid has thrown a wrench into everyone's lacrosse seasons in 2020-2021, she worked with her goalie coach on the basics for 6 months and played her first game as a goalie in December 2020.
Izzy has some great advice for kids with autism (or any kid or even adult): "Trying something new can be difficult for people on the spectrum. But don't be scared to try something new. You never know what you can accomplish until you try".
Athletes like Izzy are why Lax Traders 4 Autism exists. Lacrosse, the game given to us by the Native American's; the Creator's Game, the Medicine Game truly is healing medicine. The support, positivity and community that lacrosse provides; will help kids with autism, like Izzy, given the chance.