By Kendra Mueller
As a parent of a little boy who falls on the autism spectrum I see his daily struggles yet only focus on his exceptional qualities. Fishing has become a way for us to connect and put a tough day behind him. He spends much of his free time creating works of art through tattered pieces of paper and coiled up pipe cleaners portraying talking cats and gigantic man eating fish.
I love his outdoorsy side where we climb through the woods collecting sticks to create elaborate forts in our back yard on our tiny corner lot. See, my son has Asperger Syndrome, which often affects a child’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively, especially with those peers close to his age. This can have a delay in many motor skills and cause sensory issues. This has just hit on some of the challenges children with this disorder have to deal with and why I have found fishing a very effective way to cultivate some of my son’s creative skills along with overcoming obstacles he sometimes faces daily.
Every chance I get I am waiting on the front porch of our tiny 800 sq. foot home as the bus comes to a squealing halt at the end of our private drive. I see my little mans gleaming face as he launches himself off the stairs and screams across the yard “Where are we going fishing today mom?” He runs over, grabs the coffee can of worms we have collected and we are off onto our next fishing adventure. No matter if we are hitting the local mill pond, the lake or the river shore he spends the majority of his time exploring and a small percent of his time sitting with me fishing. I never force him to fish, I just call for him if I have a big one on and he comes over sometimes grabbing the reel from my hands or grabbing up the net to be my net man. But no matter what, he is excited just for those few minutes as we reel in and unhook and maybe take some photos.
He is always ready to sit down and wait for the next big one after that first fish is caught, but then the waiting game begins and he is off exploring again. Each time we fish he learns new things, how to tie a knot, a new species of fish or even about a new lure. He is so inquisitive all of the time. With his delayed motor skills he has a very hard time coordinating casting and that has really made it hard for this little boy that wants to be so independent. We practice all the time and he now is finally getting the hang of it. Through fishing he has improved on being able to sit and focus for longer stretches of time to use his fine motor skills to tie knots but most of all he learned to overcome his fears. He has been fishing for almost his entire life and has always squirmed and ran from the thought of actually holding onto a fish.
He could lip a bass nervously, but to hold onto the body of a bluegill made his skin crawl. He would cry if I came too close with the tiny fish of spikes. He was so afraid he would end up with skin full of painful holes if he was to hold the fish. But this past weekend he took the leap and said he was ready. He gripped that bluegill with the biggest grin on his face, full of pride. I was virtually in tears knowing how hard this was for him and how we would be beginning a new journey on our fishing adventures. One step closer to total independence for him.
Before I know it, he will not need me to help him cast, put on the bait or take off a fish. Through fishing we have built a bond no one will ever break and he has learned a valuable skill. He can get away and find peace in his life, no matter how crazy it gets. Just a rod and reel and shoreline and life’s stresses will melt away.