Monday, July 18, 2011

8 ways to get a child with special needs into sports

Max spotted his baseball coach when he was at camp the other week, because she had a kid there too. She called to tell me that he ran right up to her with the biggest smile on his face, and pretended to swing a bat.

Max is excited about all things softball. He has mixed feelings, however, about the special-needs soccer programs we've taken him to. Once, he ran screaming out of a karate studio, so there's no black belt in his immediate future, although he can give a pretty strong karate chop to your arm if your name is Sabrina and you're his sister and you have ticked him off.

Now that he is a camp champ, taking him to the All Kids Can Baseball Camp next summer seems like a possibility. Sponsored by CVS Caremark, it's a one-day experience held at Fenway Park in Boston. Kids on Little League Challenger teams, Miracle League teams, and other inclusive teams get to hang with the Red Sox batting coach, sit in the dugout, get a VIP tour of Fenway park, watch a Red Sox batting practice, then see a game. OK, so what if we're Yankees fans—that camp would be all kinds of awesome.

Boston Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan helps a 9-year-old with her swing at batting camp.

Through work I'm going to be doing with All Kids Can, a fund that sponsors programs and efforts for kids with special needs, I got to speak with a coach whose team has been to the baseball camp. Brenda Hyland of Swansea, Massachusetts, started a Little League Challenger Division team five years ago because she wanted her grandson, who has autism, to play ball. She shared some tips for getting kids involved in any sport, and I'm sharing photos readers sent of their kids doing sports.

To find sports for kids with special needs, ask. "My grandson's developmental pediatrician recommends kids to our team all the time. Ask the doctors, teachers and other experts in your life. They hear about these programs. And contact local support groups. In our area, for instance, we have Community Autism Resources, who know all about our team."

Pacey, age 3 in this photo, is on a soccer team.

No worries, your child can do it. "One little boy in a walker this year decided he's not using the walker. He's wobbly and it takes him awhile to get to first, but he does it! Either way, the kids are having fun. That's what matters. Any child can play and have fun."

Danielle, 17, has developmental delays. This is her at The Long Island Show Series for Riders With Disabilities.

Ease them in. "If you have a child who's scared of new experiences, bring him or her to the field or wherever the sport is played ahead of time and let them see it. If a child loses it during a game, give him a break and let him sit with you or take a walk. It's not a good idea to leave—he'll think that if they don't want to be there next time, he just has to have a meltdown! You might also want to bring something he's comfortable with. One kid brought one of those big, fat bats to games and used that. After a few games, he used the regular bat."

Kenyon, 9, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He plays on a Miracle League and also does assisted rock climbing, "but his favorite is bowling," says Jen.

Keep at it. "Our grandson would sit around, watch TV and be on the computer all day long if we let him. He likes to say 'No baseball!' and we'll say 'Yes baseball!' Once he's there, he's thrilled."

Caleb, 5, "was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. He plays on a Miracle League team and loves it," says Cassie.

Talk about the friends your child will make. "When we went to the CVS baseball batting camp, two 12-year-old boys developed a friendship. They are both autistic, and don't have other friends. Boys don't want to hang with them because they do things younger kids do, like play with Ninja Turtle or Hot Wheels Cars. But these boys had baseball in common. It bonded them."

Sarah Kate, 8, has cerebral palsy. This year, says mom Andi, "she's done swim team, soccer and a fun far!"

Start a fan club on the fridge. "For one of our kids, there was always a picture of his brother on the fridge in a baseball uniform. After we took the team photo, his mom put the photo of him in uniform on the fridge, too. He was so excited!"

Alvin, 4, has aspergers and does gymnastics for social and motor skills.

Ask parents about other activities. "From being on the team, we hear about other activities, like a basketball league and a bowling league for kids with special needs, and school programs, too. Parents have great resources."

Simon, 5, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He plays T-ball with League of Dreams.

Change your expectations. "We see parents pull their kids out of games because they're running around in the outfield instead of hitting the ball, and they think they are never going to play. I say give it a season! People are used to playing in a certain way. They expect an all-star—they just got a different kind. They're all all-stars to us."

This post is the first in a series of posts sponsored by CVS Caremark All Kids Can, a multimillion-dollar commitment to making life better for children with disabilities. "Like" them on Facebook!


  1. It really warms my heart to see that a disability will not hinder a child from taking part in their dreams and aspirations. Beautiful and well-written! - R

  2. My kid plays hockey on a team for kids with developmental disabilities and being a part of that team has been one of the more profound things I've experienced in my life. There are a lot of hockey teams for kids and adults with all kinds of disabilities. Check out American Special Hockey Association or Special Hockey International.

  3. I really want to get Baily into some sort of gymnastics or dance because he loves music and is extremely limber. We did the baseball for 2 years and he never enjoyed it. You had an interview with a Special Olympics athlete that competes in Gymnastics and is from Kentucky...anyway you could find out how I can get him into something like that? We are also in Ky.

  4. Awesome! Thanks for including my sweet Caleb in this post :).

  5. After trying many, one day Daniel stated he was not into sports. :( Guess his peers and coaches frustration helped this feeling.
    But this was not end of the world. Today he is a good swimmer, avid trampoline jumper, and beets moment & dad at every Wii bowl :)
    Ahh, ohh... and he is a daredevil when it comes to rollercoasters & giant water slides.
    I would suggest, as with any other aspect in your child life, do not strive to be the main stream.
    Let him discover what he loves, and have FUN with it.

  6. Ah! Thanks for including Kenyon! Also, Cassie, I'm thinking Caleb and Kenyon play for the same ML organization! T&C?

    As K gets older and taller, mobility is becoming more and more of an issue. He walks with a walker. He used to participate in a Run Club at school - but this last year he wasn't interested. This next school year we are going to investigate the school district's chapter of Special Olympics and get him into their bowling league.

  7. Loved seeing this post of pictures with kids who CAN. Warm and fuzzy, I tell ya!

  8. This is great if the facilities exist. Trust me, nothing would give me more pleasure than finding something that Dominic can join in... disability might not hinder, but trust me many other things can. It's not quite as rosy as this blog post suggests in the real world unfortunately.

  9. Renata, sorry to hear that. I live in the real world, too (er, mostly). I am lucky to have options near me, but I know that not everyone can. I know how much we have on our hands as parents of kids with special needs, but wondering if you and other local parents might be able to start some sort of sports group or team and rope in local sports experts to help? The reason why the Little League Challengers Division exists in our area is because of a mom who started it. Now, this mom went all out—she got her city to build her a field!—but it could have been done on a much smaller scale. Again, I say this knowing how much we all already have on our hands.

    MicJen: Next year might be the year Max gets involved in Special Olympics, too.

    Jean: I forgot to mention in this post that Max once ran screaming out of a hockey arena when we tried an adapted team. :} Will try again!

    OK, about Kentucky gymnastics facilities, I asked Danielle's mom. MJM Studios in Florence, Kentucky, has dance and tumble classes for kids with special needs: Danielle's mom, Coleen, says if they got enough interest, they might be able to set a time for rhythmic gymnastics. The owner of that gym, Mary Jo Menning, was Danielle's first coach.

  10. Ellen... the problem is that nothing exists... seriously there isn't even an accessible database with a list of children with physical disabilities like Dominic, no groups, no nothing. There is for learning disabilities or spectrum disorders. I've been trying to find just one child like Dominic who lives locally enough for him to meet and have failed. And really I don't live in the sticks. Perhaps the UK just sucks at looking after kids with physical disabilities? Certainly all the local services have been cut so any chance I had has just been reduced further. It's such a shame.

  11. I don't know about the UK. Here in the states, there is no such thing as access to lists of children with disabilities, either.

    I have found local, real-life support through blogs and Yahoo groups, and even by joining a national moms group in the U.S. (where I've posted q's about other parents of kids who have special needs). Also, by asking Max's therapists about connecting with other parents. Even if our kids have different flavors of disability, there are commonalities that bonded us.

    Do you know Stacie at Mama Lewis, also in UK? Great blogger. I know your kids have different issues, but might not hurt to connect with her.

  12. Thanks for including Simon! Re: Gymnastics and finding programs - sometimes if you call a facility for "typical" kids and ask they have or know of programs designed for children who are differently abled. That was how we found the "You can do it too" program in our area (MD). I'd imagine this may work for other sports as well.

  13. Renata, I happened to spot this group on Twitter this a.m.: Description: "Where Mums find & meet other Mums with children of similar age or circumstances in their own local areas of the UK online and offline."

  14. woohoo! Ellen knows I coach a SN soccer team, and LOVE it. They're awesome and it gives kids w/o special needs to come and work with kids with cp/autism/ds/etc.

    My soccer kids ROCK! I am honored to be one of their coaches.

  15. oh, for parents: the program is the AYSO VIP program.

  16. So would these types of camps and/or special olympics also work for kids who have heart conditions that require modifications? It's so difficult on a lot of the kids/teens I work with to not be able to play sports but I'm wondering if it's possible to adapt some activities through programs like these so that they can play. Please let me know what you think! :-)

  17. Maya, I can't say for sure, but camps and programs generally geared toward kids with special needs know just how to modify programs to suit a child's needs. So it seems like they would be open to tailoring a program toward a kid with heart issues. Also, many children with Down syndrome participate in the Special Olympics, and it's not uncommon for kids with DS to have heart issues.

  18. I just found your blog & I love love it!! I am also a mom to a special needs child. My oldest has spastic paraparesis. When she was younger, we thought she had cerebral palsy.

    I remember all the speech, PT, & OT visits. I can remember when Ashleigh was discharged in speech because her speech was that of a child of her age. I could not believe it.

    Ash was involved with Special Olympics. If I could get her there now, she would be in that still. One van family. She also does a program called "I can do it, You can do it" It is a national program. It focuses on nutrition & exercise. We also get Ash on a horse as much as we can. There is a baseball program here, too, but we have not put her in it. I may.

  19. Hi,I am from Bombay, son is 9 yrs old and is having problem of mild mental retardation.he is not able to study but is good in sports (swimming)if any one would suggest me something abt this pls mail me @

  20. I recently learned about SAFE Baseball(Sports are for everyone).It is a team/leauage for kids 5 and up psycial/mental disablites

  21. We are high school students from Hewitt-Trussville High School. For our senior engineering project we are designing a ball that we hope will help the visually and hearing impaired further participate in athletic activities. If you would respond to our survey or could send this to other interested people who could help us better our project, it would be much appreciated. Thank you for your time.


Thanks for sharing!

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