What It’s Really Like Taking an Autistic Child to a Sporting Event

In Learn
By Alex Flanagan | December 11, 2015

(By guest contributor Charles Wehlage)

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is useless”…Albert Einstein

There are so many things that a “normal” Dad will experience with his son, and I’ve learned to accept that those experiences probably won’t ever happen for me. However, just for today, I want to do what all dad’s dream of doing with their son. Just once. I want to take Carson to a game.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon in June. Carson likes the wind against his face, so we had the windows down, driving up the 93 from Cape Cod.

Carson was 8 years old, it’s Father’s day and this was our first time to a major league baseball game. The Red Sox were playing the San Francisco Giants. The traffic to the parking garage gave me the time to think about what parts of the game I would share with him. Carson is autistic, and I’ve learned how to piecemeal the information so he understands.

Walking down Yawkey Way, we pass by the food vendors. Although the sausages strike my senses well, there’s no need to stop, as Carson only eats a few foods. And, while I’d love to swing into the Cask n’ Flagon, I know the music & noise will overwhelm Carson’s senses. There’s a street vendor next to us, so I buy a Red Sox cap. I soon realize, walking into Fenway Park, that Carson doesn’t like things touching his head. So, I just carry the hat.

“Pretzels !”, Carson yells out with delight. He runs to the front of the food line. I’m happy, since there’s something he will eat. I apologize to the people standing in line. Gracious as they were, telling us to “go ahead, he seems to love the pretzels”, I’m pretty sure they could tell something was “off”. I thanked them, but couldn’t help think, there’s a fine line between gracious and pity.

We find our way to the seats. First base side, Pavilion Club, nice view to the field as well as the Boston skyline and the “Green Monstah”. Carson is having his first set of troubles. The seat is hard. I flag a vendor down, and buy a shirt, for the only purpose of having something soft to sit on. Then comes the pretzel. There’s salt on it. Carson has to pick it off, but becomes frustrated that there’s too many salt crystals in his pretzel. I console him by saying we will get a Happy Meal at McDonalds after the game.

It’s the top of the 2nd inning, and I’m concentrating on the unique knuckleball pitching style of Tim Wakefield. I look over at Carson to explain why he throws the ball that way, and he’s drawing pictures in the scorebook. He does this for another inning, and I know, this makes him comfortable. He’s happy just drawing in this book. It’s the 4th inning. By now, I know it’s time to leave. I’ve learned from the multiple Applied Behaviorists and Neuropsychologists, about “cognitive empathy” – the ability to predict other’s thoughts and intentions. Carson will melt down soon, and leaving now is the best option.

There will be no Father-Son chat about trading Babe Ruth & the Curse, about the World Champs riding the Duck Boats into the Charles River, or about why the guy who just hit a single will steal second base.

I had hoped for a much different day. But Carson is autistic.

Most everyone I know has a challenge, and for me, autism certainly ranks very high. The hardest part of Carson’s autism is the “loss of hope”, as I call it. Doug Flutie once said to me about autism – hope comes in many unique ways. I’ve accepted that Carson may not get married, he may not go to college, and he probably won’t play a sport in high school.  As I write this, I’m just hoping there’s someone who will walk alongside him at his upcoming 8th Grade graduation ceremony.

It occurs to me that most mainstream fathers, the ones that coach their kid’s little league teams or cheer when their child scores a goal, will never know much about the unique battle that is autism. When a group of dad’s eagerly plan a father son trip to see a sporting event, they likely don’t understand why I decline.

Carson and I do our game outings differently and I’ve learned to accept the little man that Carson is becoming, whatever that is. I don’t need him to score goals or touchdowns or stand up and cheer with me when my favorite team scores a home run. Because through my son, I now see that the strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.



Charles Wehlage is working on his upcoming book, “Take Me out to the Ballgame”. A book written for every father that hopes for his son, weathers the challenges, and learns to accept the little man he becomes.


  1. I have tears in my eyes as I type this. This should also be required reading for all sports parents. Many of us have no idea of how lucky we are. I will be the first in line to purchase Mr. Wehlage’s book. Thank you, sir.

  2. This was a touching and honest story. I enjoy your website because it offers such a wide range of stories, opinion, and insights!


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