A story of special needs support that changed two lives
There’s not a whole lot you can do in life that is more gratifying than seeing a life change before your eyes. Brandon Geter, a 24 year old educator at Redwood Day School, has been a coach at E-Soccer in Alameda County since 2005. During the past six years, he’s experienced highs and lows with the inclusive sports program – times when he felt passionate, and times when he questioned the effectiveness of his coaching skills, and his ability to provide special needs support.
The one memory that has kept him in the game for so long was his first one on one experience with a child at E-Soccer. Tommy, an 8 year old child with autism, found his way to the inclusive sports program during the summer season of 2005. When he first arrived, he did not even want to get out of the car.
“He didn’t speak a word,” Brandon said. Tommy found it difficult to remain in a session for the full amount of time. He often ran away from the group, much to duress of his anxious parents.
Over the course of the Summer, Brandon was able to build a close relationship with his parents, who were able to help him understand Tommy and reasons for his behavior. Having no previous experience with special needs children, Brandon listened attentively for any kind of direction he could get to be able to engage with their son.
“The biggest thing I learned to do was to be patient,” Brandon said. “It was learning how to understand what he wanted and needed, without the use of verbal communication.”
After weeks of consistent application of advice and input from parents and special needs educators alike, Tommy began to transform. No longer was he refusing to get out of the car. Tommy instead would beam when his coach Brandon would approach to lead him to the soccer field.
“Basically, E-Soccer was this kid’s moment to shine,” said Brandon. “The attention that he got was something he did not receive at school. Over there, he was just a special needs kid. On the field, he was a champion.”
“It was like night and day…he wasn’t the same kid,” Brandon said. “To see the look on his parents’ faces, knowing that their kid just did something they never thought he’d be able to do…that is the reason I’m still at E-Soccer.”
The biggest lesson Brandon learned from E-Soccer is that “it’s not just you teaching the kids,” he said. “They’re actually teaching you. I’m a more patient man because of my experience with Tommy, and I can honestly say I have a great appreciation for the simple things.”
A new purpose
Today Brandon continues to work with kids at E-Soccer as a head coach of the 7 and older group. Although he misses the one on one interactions he had with kids like Tommy, Brandon focuses his efforts on creating a positive and engaging environment for all kids, special needs and typical alike. Every session, he remembers his times with Tommy, and it fuels his desire to keep the program running strong.
Since E-Soccer was founded years ago by inclusive blogger Russ Ewell, kids have been provided with the opportunity to experience something they never had a chance to before. When a child with special needs understands that you are willing to go wherever he or she wants to go, then you’ve opened up the opportunity for them to be themselves. And this, above all else, is the essence of changing lives.