"Like any other American family"

May 1, 2012

Sue Wilson says her family is “just like any other American family,” in her words. The family of four is almost always on the go—basketball games, ballet recitals and so on. But for her two sons, Josh and Ryan, sports have opened up a world that once seemed closed to them. KBIA’s Nick Gass has this audio postcard.

“Are you guys gonna play a game?” Sue Wilson asks two of her kids at their Ashland home. She and her husband, Dan, have four children: Ryan, 18; Becca, 16; Josh, 11 and Emma, 8.

“I have two boys, one with autism and one with just low IQ, mental retardation or whatever the common term these days is for it,” she says. Josh was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at a young age.

“I started both of my boys off in our Optimist Club in our town. And we did that, but it got kind of competitive, and I didn’t feel that was in the best interests of the kids,” she says.

“We won, dad!” Josh says after his Special Olympics team won a gold medal at a local competition. “And you scored a bunch of points and got some rebounds. Good job!” Dan says.

“At the time, they were looking to have more fun, just doing the sport and not being so competitive. And their teams started getting competitive,” Sue recalls.

At every basketball practice and tournament this season, Sue Wilson has been cheering her sons on the sideline. “Come on, Joshy! That’s it! Get open! Good job!”

“We knew that it was going to be a challenge to get them involved in activities, and we wanted them to be involved in activities. So we sought out activities that were tailored to them,” Dan says.

Jody Cook, a recreation specialist at Columbia Parks and Recreation, runs the department’s Special Olympics sports department.

“The times that Ryan has been able to travel, stay in a hotel with his team and his coaches. The coaches of Ryan’s team have been closer to, like, [a] peer group, college kids. That kind of acceptance from a closer peer group is really, really good and it does so much for somebody, especially Ryan’s age,” Cook says.

“And now he feels connected. He feels like he has all these friends. He feels a part of something, a part of a group, you know. Not like he’s just isolated and people, ‘Yeah, they’re nice to me, but they don’t really interact with me,’” Sue says.

“There’s a really great family support with the Wilsons in general. The boys are involved in many programs. Their older sister Becca has volunteered with us for three years,” Cook says.

“What’s your favorite part about the game?” Becca asks her younger brother, Josh.

“For me, it’s just getting close to them. I feel like this is how we bond,” Becca says.

“The interactions sometimes between the boys and the girls doesn’t always flow well,” Sue says. “They can’t always understand ‘Why don’t the boys understand that this is the way needs to be?’ They can’t always understand.”

“I hope that I’m not always asking them to be perfect,” Sue says, but she acknowledges it might not always come out that way, especially with Becca.

“C’mon, Ryan,” Josh says, as his older brother attempts to dunk. He dunks. “That’s his first one,” Josh exclaims.

“Our life is just so busy. I guess busy is probably the best thing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s busy and it’s fun, and it’s life to us,” Sue says.