Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Special Needs Kids, Parents and Sports: Be Flexible in Terms of Supporting the Team. Keep a Perspective That's Grounded in Doing What's Right for Kids' Development as People and Not Focused on Winning and Losing

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Special Needs Kids, Parents and Sports: Be Flexible in Terms of Supporting the Team. Keep a Perspective That's Grounded in Doing What's Right for Kids' Development as People and Not Focused on Winning and Losing

Article excerpt

As summer appraoches and vacation plans are being made, it is also a great time for a family discussion on your child's participation in sports for the next school year. What sports are available? What are the best sports for your child? Is it realistic to participate? What about time and resource commitments?

I recently spoke to colleagues whose children have special needs. The one young man is 10 years old, in elementary school and has ADHD. The other student is a senior in high school and suffers from a learning disability and communication issues. Both sets of parents felt it was important for their sons to participate in some type of sport. The benefits were clear, but the implementation for the child and the rest of the family would be a struggle at some times, positive at other times and an overall demanding process that, in the end, took more time than both parents had believed. The elementary kid's parents are teachers and coaches and knew that the challenges that lay ahead for their son were not going to be easy. How would he blend into a team setting? How would a volunteer coach handle the many issues surrounding their son's participation?

Their son had a good deal of difficulty focusing and maintaining attention for periods of time. He also struggled with following directions. This presented problems in some sports. He participated in youth soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming and karate. His most challenging sport was soccer. This was where the most participation was in terms of numbers. This also made it difficult for him to concentrate and stay focused for an entire practice or game. Baseball was also quite difficult, due to the number of kids on the team and the amount of down time during practices and games. The son experienced most of his success in karate. There, the sensei focused on self-discipline and consistent practice regimens. This greatly helped the young man's participation and growth. There were fewer distractions and a more individualized practice regimen. The sensei was a licensed instructor and could adapt his practices to their son. Yet, because of the high structure surrounding the sport, their son did quite well, both at practice sessions and at competitions.

The other young man in the high school setting was a different challenge. His mom encouraged participation because she felt her son needed the activity to stay in shape and be part of something in the school. He would withdraw quite quickly from any social situation and mom and dad felt strongly that this could change with involvement in athletics. He started out as a manager on the football team and, after two years, an assistant coach who worked in the special education department encouraged both parents to let their son participate on a limited basis in football. The coaches would monitor him very closely. With his teammates urging him on, the young man grew socially and in stature on campus as well. He gained acceptance from his teammates and even though he never fully participated in a varsity or junior varsity game, he did play a few downs at the junior varsity level. In his last junior varsity game, the head coach and opposing coach did something that helped this young man grow leaps and bounds. The offense ran a play where he was able to carry the ball for a touchdown, much to the delight of our team and the opposing team as well. …

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