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 run...so 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!