Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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May 21, 2013

Commentary: Junior Rodeo event a triumph for my special kid

JACKSONVILLE — Most days we report the news.

But some days we're part of the news.

I couldn't report on the Junior Rodeo and leave it at the "who, what, when, where and why." I couldn't, because MY child was one of the special needs kids who was able to participate in Saturday's event, which has become my favorite experience so far in my nine months in Jackson-ville.

My older son, Curt, 11, is autistic. He'll be the first to tell you he's quite high functioning, but he just doesn't have a neurotypical brain like his brother, me or his dad. In most ways, Curt is a typical 5th grader. He drops his clothes on the floor, likes video games and movies, has an Instagram account and is known to back-talk on occasion. On the other hand, Curt designs roller coasters. Obsessively. G-forces and inclines, and struts and supports and barrel rolls and corkscrews. I don't understand most of it, but what I don't understand, he explains in detail … great detail … and shows me on the 3D versions he builds on his computer. In fact, at Junior Rodeo on Saturday, Curt could be heard calling across the arena, "Don't worry, Mom, I'm still interested in roller coasters primarily!"

However, that was followed by, "But I think I'm interested in horses as a secondary hobby now, too."

Curt got a cowboy hat to wear and take home, startlingly similar to the one his beloved Paw-Paw never left the house without.

Curt took to Levi, a docile 13-year-old gray guided by volunteer Brittany Ranes. In fact, when Curt stopped scratching the horse's nose, Levi nuzzled up under Curt's hand to remind him to keep rubbing.

Curt tried his hand at roping, but quickly became frustrated when he couldn't quite get the hang of it. A quick reminder from me that he's left-handed rectified that situation and one of the rodeo queen contestants went out of her way to help him rope the metal "horse." On his next toss, however, he roped HER, drawing chuckles from the assembled crowd. He ran out of the arena, not understanding the laughter.

That's when more volunteers stepped in with support and encouragement. They made sure Curt got to drive the Conestoga wagon. "Haw Pearl, gee Ruth," he ordered, the reigns in his very own hands and delight in his eyes.

"Hey Mom, I'm doing it all by myself," he said, as Savannah the no-tailed dog perched on the seat next to him.

And he rode Levi tirelessly around the arena, whooping and hollering when he spotted himself on the big screen above the ring.

The day was so special and Curt will be talking about it for a long time. I can't thank Jennifer Cook and the other volunteers enough for treating my special kid just like he was a 'neurotypical' kid. Because really, that in itself is special.

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