PRINCETON — Every little boy dreams of playing baseball and Matthew Schennum is not any different except Matthew is autistic.
His dad, Scott, said, “I wanted Matthew to play to show people that a disability isn’t a road block to achieving things rather just a slight detour. Also I wanted to show kids who might be sitting on the fence to go ahead and play.”
Matthew is 7 years old and will be attending second grade this fall in Princeton. He is the son of Janet and Scott Schennum. He has a little sister, Sarah.
In August of 2009 Matthew was diagnosed as nonverbal autistic at Easter Seals in Bloomington. With much help and support from Princeton Elementary School and Gateway Services, Matthew has become more verbal. Many autistic children have impaired social skills and also learn skills in different ways.
Both of Matthew’s parents have expressed how much Matthew loves sports especially basketball and baseball. He loves to watch sports on television and loves to go to Peoria Chiefs games.
Matthew’s mom, Janet said “Because of Matthew’s love of sports, he wanted to play on a baseball team this year with his friends. We as parents have always encouraged Matthew to be involved in activities that encourage social interaction. We felt that playing sports would give Matthew a chance to play on a team, learn social rules and just have fun.”
Matthew is currently on the Princeton Instructional League Tigers Team sponsored by Allegion. Since Matthew learns differently than other kids, he was provided many accommodations.
Matthew is a visual learner and learns best when he is taught in this mode. Before games he is read a social story which breaks down a social situation into a series of events or steps that should happen in order for an individual to accomplish the given task. He also has other visual aides to help him understand the rules and concepts of the game.
Janet said, “Matthew never ceases to amaze us. He is a little boy, who has some challenges due to his autism, but if he wants to do something, he will work really hard to meet his goal.”
Matthew was eased into the game situations. He was allowed to just watch during the first game of the season then he played in the field during the second game. During the third game and all games after that, he played in the field and batted.
According to Matthew’s dad, Scott, some of the major struggles Matthew faced included knowing where to stand in the batter’s box, holding the bat properly with two hands, and understanding the order of the bases and to run to the bases after hitting the ball.
Matthew’s coaches, Tim Forristall and Erik Wahlgren, were very supportive. They helped to provide some needed accommodations so Matthew could be successful. Many times they pitched to Matthew or allowed Matthew’s dad to pitch. They also gave Matthew lots of reminders of where he needed to be and what he needed to do.
During one of Matthew’s games last week, when he was up to bat he was smiling from ear to ear. He struck out but Matthew heard all the cheers and support from all the people in attendance.
Scott has questioned whether or not letting Matthew play was the right thing to do. Scott said, “But after game four, I thought I’m glad he played and he will play another year and then we will take it from there. It was a beautiful thing.”
The support from parents and the kids have been amazing. A mom from another team, Courtney Driscoll, said, “My son Evan played Matthew Friday night and thought it was great to see him out there. He’s not just a child with autism, he’s a boy that wants to hit and throw a ball around, just like any other boy. Kudos to the Schennums for letting him just be a boy!”
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.