COLUMBIA — KaShaye Mathews has learned how to pass, dribble and shoot a basketball with such expertise that she's helped her team win a spot at the state Special Olympics Three-on-Three Championship competition.
Special Olympics in Missouri offers 19 different sports for athletes to participate in. It provides an opportunity to socialize and make new friends, promote physical activity and build self-esteem. There are nine Special Olympics basketball teams in Columbia, and five made it to state: one regulation team (five-on-five), three modified regulation teams and one three-on-three team.
Jody Cook, recreation specialist of adaptive recreation and sports for Columbia Parks and Recreation, said KaShaye and her team will advance to the state Three-on-Three Championship game on March 21 in the St. Charles area. The team had hoped to play in a regional competition in late February, but that was canceled.
“She’s amazing. The other kids on the team like to pass the ball to her so she can shoot it in,” coach Trish Wallace said of KaShaye's performance on the court.
KaShaye has been playing basketball since she was 7 years old. She practices once a week with her team and also plays on her own at the Activity and Recreation Center in Columbia.
“I work hard in basketball, and it makes me feel good. My team is proud,” KaShaye said.
By playing basketball and being able to function well on the court, KaShaye has already defied doctors' expectations.
When KaShaye was 2 years old, her parents began to notice she wasn’t doing things their first three boys did. After taking her to get tested, the doctors told her parents she might never talk, be able to develop relationships or succeed in an academic environment, said her father, Kendall Mathews.
The Mathews' faith as parents was tested. “We couldn’t help questioning ourselves and blaming ourselves, but then we found out through research that it wasn’t anything we had done,” said Kendall Mathews, who also works with the Salvation Army in Columbia.
“It made our faith grow. We knew what the doctors said, but because we raised her in faith and believed in a higher doctor, Dr. Jesus, she overcame what was expected,” he said.
Katrina Mathews, KaShaye's mother, said: “KaShaye is moderately autistic. She is far up the scale in communication skills and lower in everyday tasks skills. This means she can take care of herself and perform everyday tasks, but she has a harder time with communicating with other people."
Autism spectrum disorder usually develops in the early years of life and can affect a person’s communication and social skills. The disorder is hard to define because there it affects everyone differently.
Kendall Mathews describes his only daughter as a gift from God and says God doesn't make mistakes.
“We always told her, ‘You are a special girl,'” Kendall Mathews said. "We raised her to know she is a special person because that is the way God created her."
KaShaye said: "I am a good girl and do good like my parents ask. I pray to God and be good like he told me to."
At home, KaShaye has chores to complete along with her brothers. The Mathews say they made sure to treat KaShaye the same as they did their four boys, Ronnie, Kim, Mark and Mikal. KaShaye washes dishes, mops the floor and keeps her room clean.
“She even makes her bed every day, and most 15-year-olds don’t do that,” Kendall Mathews said. “We believe that helps her develop her life skills and forces her to practice her communication skills.”
As a student at West Junior High School, KaShaye is on the honor roll and works hard to keep up her grades.
In addition to her special education classes, she takes some mainstream courses. Her parents said they requested this so she could observe other children without disabilities and their accepted behavior patterns.
“I like my school and my teacher, and I do hard work to make everyone proud,” KaShaye said.
Her parents also requested she work in the cafeteria as a way to help her build interpersonal and communication skills and prepare her for a future job.
Her teacher, Leslie Bishop, said KaShaye's work in the cafeteria is a great tool. "She stocks the chips and checks the dates of the milk and puts the cartons in the right order."
Kendall Matthews said he could see his daughter working at a fast-food restaurant such as McDonald's someday.
"The work is repetitive, so she will be able to handle it herself, but it also gives her an opportunity to interact with other people," he said.
At times, however, other people can make working in the cafeteria difficult for KaShaye.
"Sometimes, if we eat at a table in the lunch room, it will be the last one to fill up because no one wants to sit next to us. It's sad," Bishop said. "Or sometimes, when one of my students waves at someone, they don't wave back."
Bishop said she concentrates on teaching similarities, not differences, her students share with other kids. KaShaye has never shown signs of letting such incidents bother her.
“If anyone ever made fun of her, she would always say, ‘I don’t care. I am a special girl and God loves me,'” Kendall Mathews said.
Faith and church have helped KaShaye in many aspects. KaShaye is an active member of the Salvation Army Church in Columbia and says she loves going to church and everyone there. “I like to come and sing praise,” she said.
She is involved in several different programs at her church, including Corps of Cadets and Girl Guards. She is also a Junior Soldier. The Corps of Cadets is a Bible study program for teenagers.
“I like being in the Corps of Cadets. We learn about the Bible, pray and I work hard to make everyone proud,” KaShaye said.
Girl Guards is aimed at character-building for Salvation Army girls in grades nine through 12. It resembles Girl Scouts, in which members participate in certain activities and perform specific tasks in order to earn different badges.
“Compared to her peers, she is able to excel because she has such a phenomenal work ethic. When she is given a task, she carries out every step of that task,” Katrina Mathews said.