Advocacy and the Hockey Helmet

Jack is skating for the Montgomery Cheetahs again this year, which is awesome. He’s had some really great practices and also some iffy practices and then there was that one really memorable practice that was going so terribly until one of the mentors and one of the older Cheetah players teamed up to create an individual little drill that made Jack laugh so much and skate so hard. That practice reminded me why I love this team so much. There was so much good in those moments—for all three of those kiddos.

Things like that are why I continue to get up at 6:30 am every Saturday morning to take Jack to practice. See, I am not a morning person and I would really like to sleep in until 8 on Saturdays. Even so, I like to watch Jack skate even more and (semi) happily pry my eyes open at the crack of dawn at the start of every weekend.

All of this is to let you know that me getting Jack to hockey on time on a Saturday is a whole thing in and of itself.

Last Saturday, I had Jack in the locker room, all suited up, which is no small feat considering the amount of padding that is required to play hockey. As I was tying his skates, I handed him his helmet and told him to put it on, which he did. Then he promptly started screaming and took it off.

Now, although almost all of Jack’s gear is hand-me-down donated gear from the Cheetah equipment locker, I decided this fall that his head was very important, so I actually took him to a hockey store in August and got him fitted for a helmet, which I bought at full price and which Jack has been wearing all season so far. But even though he had worn it for many weeks, this day it was not to be.

“IT HURRRRRTS!” he yelled.

“Just put it on, Jack, and it will be fine in a minute,” I told him. I figured that once he got it settled on and positioned his ears and stuff, he’d be okay. Because that helmet is fine. He’s worn it all season and it is fine.

The helmet was not fine.

I tried so hard to get him to wear that helmet. I took it off and put it back on, but once his big fat tears started rolling down his cheeks, I knew our morning was not going to go as well as it had started.

I sat there with Jack as 7:45 came and went. He had the helmet on. He was fully dressed for hockey. My mother was visiting and was excited to see him skate. I had managed to get all three of us up, dressed, and to the rink on time. The very last thing I wanted to do was take off Jack’s gear and take him home.


But I am teaching Jack to stand up for himself. I am teaching him to advocate for himself. I want him to be able to tell people when something hurts. I want him to be able to look a tough situation in the face, say “this is not okay,” and make people listen to him.

I can’t do that if *I* don’t listen to him.

The fastest way to undermine that lesson I’m trying to teach would be to disregard it when it was inconvenient to adhere to it.

I took a couple of moments to sit and breathe and watch Jack. Then I took the helmet off of his head and, even though I was frustrated and annoyed and mad and I’m sure Jack could see or sense that, I hugged and kissed him and told him to take off his gear.

We left the rink and went straight to the equipment locker so we could find a bigger helmet. I was still annoyed as hell, but I wanted Jack to know that I was proud of him for sticking up for himself even if he had upset me, so as we were stopped at a red light, I turned around, held his hand, and I told him explicitly that I was glad that he had done what he had done. I told him that if someone is doing something that makes him hurt that he should say no and that is what he did and I was proud of him for it.

Then I turned around and quietly seethed in the front seat.

When we got to the equipment locker, we proceeded to take part in the three bears version of hockey helmet fitting: This one is too big. This one is too little. This one makes me scream in pain.

Then, after a few minutes of this, Jack said, “I don’t need a different helmet. My old helmet fits fine.” Then he let me put it on him and he was all, “See? Perfect.”

Cue outer calm face and interior freak out.

We eventually determined that the helmet is usually okay, but that today it wasn’t. I get that. I understand why one week he could wear it with no problem but the next week it could be intolerable. I know it is the same head and same helmet, but sometimes it is just not the same sensation.

I ended up picking up a larger helmet to bring home with us. When Jack objected, asking why I would get another helmet when his is already perfect, I told him that I would adjust them both to where we could find one that works for him. I told him that we could put both helmets in his bag so if he has another week where his original (safer, newer, better fitted) helmet is too much for him, we will have a backup.

You should have seen the look on his face when I said that. It was sweet and calm and happy. He looked like he felt understood. We fist bumped and I said, “We’re a team, right?” and he smiled as he nodded and said yes.

Then, suddenly, our morning was all right again.

19 thoughts on “Advocacy and the Hockey Helmet

  1. Boy, does this take me back, every little piece from that equipment locker to suiting up. You DO rock, stimey. I was with you, every single second, and don’t know if I would have been as calm but if we EVER find ourselves at a rink again I plan to channel this and you. xo

  2. You are the best mom every. Seriously! We are new to sensory issues-well, maybe we are not new to the issues, instead we are new to having a name for them. I am trying so hard to learn that getting visibly frustrated doesn’t help either of us when my son is in sensory overload. Thank you for a great example of how to deal with those times.

  3. This is just awesome! I could feel the internal mommy struggle the whole time. But I’m so glad it was an eye-opening moment for both of you!!!

  4. So the hockey season is already in progress? Clearly I don’t know about hockey!

    Do helmets have those little adjustable pad things, like bike helmets have?

    Also, in my experience, the strongest coffee is either espresso or French press coffee. No milk – whether almond, soy, dairy, or otherwise. Big travel mug. :)

    Meanwhile, I have a terrible code [heh], so have to switch from coffee to tea for a few days. Coffee tastes too bitter. :(

  5. Hello this is Keegan again from the Sluis Academy. I could not be more impressed with your dedication to your son. its great that he is playing hockey and he will learn a ton of life lessons from being involved in sport. I encourage you to involve him in as many sports as possible. He will do nothing but improve and have fun during any sport.

  6. This post is so beautiful and honest. We have all been there. Thank you. This is a poignant look at sensory issues, got to be in it to understand. And our people work so hard every day.
    Keeping holding our hands and teaching us on this journey. Xo

  7. Stimey, you are the most badass person I know. And excellently, your ways are contagious. I am a more accepting person than I would be if I did not know you. There are so many people you have affected and influenced, and the world is a better place because of it.
    thank you for your example.

  8. First, I want to say how much my heart swelled when I read your story. Thank you, I really can’t thank you enough, for listening.

    Now, here’s why the hockey helmet could be ok some, but not all, of the time. We autistics have a lot of inflammation in our bodies. Just like a grandma with arthritis won’t be able to hold the dog’s leash on some days because her fingers are so much more sore than usual, so it goes with the sutures of the skull.

    Autistics’ blood-brain barrier is compromised, so any fat-soluble toxins breathed in, absorbed through the skin or gut, or created in the body go straight into the bloodstream, and head directly for the highest concentrations of fat: the brain, and cell membranes.

    Inflammation in the brain hurts. It can feel like shards of glass inside the head, rubbing against each other. It can feel like a headache starting at the forehead and gradually spreading backwards. But it usually feels as though your skull is too small for your brain, and every place the skull knits together aches.

    When the skull sutures ache like this, anything touching your head is painful. Headbands and hairclips for girls, ball caps and bandanas for guys, bike and skating helmets for both… any compression or pulling on the outside of the head magnifies the pain on the inside.

    If your boy’s head is hurting, he needs some help to get the brain inflammation down. Best wishes to your family for the holidays, and happy hockey playing!

  9. So where do you get helmets? I just signed Isaac up for a beginning ice skating class for hockey and he needs a helmet for the class.

    • Total Hockey in Rockville is where we got ours. Rockville Ice Arena has a pro shop, but they have crazy weird hours, so good luck there. There is also Replay Sports in Rockville that sells used gear, which is good for a lot of stuff, but probably not helmets. :) I hope Isaac has fun!

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