Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sports for kids with special needs: a home run

Here's Max on opening day for his Little League Challenger Division, a local softball team we joined a few years ago. He's looking pretty sporty there, right? Sports for children with special needs: YEAH!

Except... the gate was as far as we got that day. Max wanted no part of the team. That's what happened last season; he just wasn't into it, and Dave stopped taking him. This year, though, I wasn't letting him off the hook.

I wasn't sporty myself growing up; my parents were all about learning and reading, and lugging a pile of books home from the library was as athletic as I got. But I want to instill a love of sports in the kids—because it's healthy, because it boosts their confidence, and because it's good, clean fun. Sabrina's taken soccer classes, and just started on a softball team. She also does gymnastics.

I think sports are especially important for Max: The more his muscles move, the better. Sports can give his ego a workout, too. Sure, Max loves playing t-ball in our backyard (perhaps you've heard me screeching "NICE HIT, MAX!!!"). I just want him to feel proud of his accomplishments on the field, around other kids and parents. I want him to have that sports high.

Back when Max was born, someone gave him a Baby's First Baseball set. It sat in Max's toy chest for years, unused, because he wasn't able to grasp the bat. The mere sight of it tortured me until finally, I gave it away. Back then, I didn't have the hope I do now. My patience lacked endurance. Then at Max's fourth birthday party, he got an I Can Play Basketball game. With a lot of focus, he was able to grasp the little orange rubber ball with both hands and get it through the net. SCORE! T-ball came along, too, over time.

In recent years, we've tried taking Max to soccer classes for kids with disabilities. No go. We're not participating in local Special Olympics programs just yet. Max has a fear of big crowds—both the noise and the mere sight of them. I want to give him another year to mature, and I'm hoping softball will be a big step toward that. His right foot is going to slow him down when it's casted in a few weeks but for now, Max can still run just fine, especially if he is trying to get away from me because it is time to stop playing outside and come in.

Sunday morning, the four of us went to a game. From the start, Max was less resistant than the first time, perhaps because I'd been talking about playing softball all week. Or maybe because I promised him chocolate ice-cream later on. OK, especially because I'd promised him ice-cream.

Max tentatively wandered into the park where the field is.

For a half hour, he stood and watched the other boys playing. There's a mix of kids on the team—kids in wheelchairs, kids with autism and Down syndrome, teens, little kids. The pitcher was really good at tailoring his toss to the child's abilities, coming up closer for kids who struggled to aim the bat. The umpire stepped in to help with batting as necessary, although most kids pushed him away because they just wanted to do it themselves. Loved that.

Each and every kid had the biggest grin on his face when he hit the ball and made it to first base, and parents cheered like crazy every time.

I'm telling you, if you ever need to feel reassured about your child's capabilities, get him to play a sport. Most can be adapted (er, not that I am recommending rock climbing or sky diving). And nothing compares to the thrills you feel as as a parent, one who wasn't sure her kid would ever walk, let alone live. You watch your kid play, you watch all of these kids play, and you get this rush of happiness. It's a sports high for you, too.

"Max, you want to hit the ball?" I asked for the umpteenth time, and finally he said "Yes!" He chose to do t-ball. "He doesn't like loud clapping or applause," I announced to everyone as he ambled up to home plate, and felt like I was a celeb publicist saying "No autographs, please."

You'll hear me cracking up in the video because at home, Max can seriously whack the ball. Here, he taps it as if were an eggshell. I think he was just toying with everyone. I didn't care; my heart was running bases at the mere sight of him at bat.

Max was very pleased with himself. And guess what? He cried when we left...because he didn't want to go home.

Do your kids do any sports, at home or on teams?

This is the second in a series of posts sponsored by P&G, for whom I'm covering The Special Olympics—they're a sponsor! "Like" their Thank You, Mom Facebook page and they'll donate $1 toward Special Olympic Team USA's journey to the World Summer Games in Athens.


  1. Caleb (5 years old) plays baseball with the Miracle League. He loves it. I'm so glad he has something like that available to him.

  2. My kids are kickball kings! They love it (it's like baseball only with a big red ball--less opportunity for injuries). They have a small group of friends who come over and play in the back field -- they will go for hours only stopping for a beverage break. Those cheap old four dollar balls are the best thing going!

  3. Junior's health hasn't allowed him to play baseball the past couple years. He used to play baseball on a special team and loved it.

  4. What a sweet video! Way to go, Max! :)

  5. This post made me cry, in a good way! One of my ultimate wishes is for my little "brother" to be able to play some form of sport, any form of sport. He loves, loves, loves to watch football (soccer type) on the TV, and I know he'd love to play it if he could. We used to take him to a activity with big huge foam balls, 5 foot ones, and we'd race him around in his wheelchair after them, and he'd roar with delight at it, he absolutely loved it. And he loves being in the water, so much, he seems to have so much more muscle control in the water, he can hold his head up, he can't when he isn't in the water. When he is well enough again, I'm definitely going to take him swimming!

  6. Seth loves to play basketball with the program Upward. He loves it and cries when it is over. He only gets to play during the winter months. I really like this program because they all get equal playing time and no one is singled out with his or her disabilities.

  7. Way to go Max! He really likes to hit the ball and looks so proud. I'm sure he has one proud Momma and Dad!

  8. My friend's son has CP and is wheelchair bound but he learnt to do karate and is now a black belt and is teaching it to kids who are in wheelchairs and walking!! He is really an inspiration to everyone! When he was a baby his mom was told to put him into a home and forget about him as he would be a vegetable and now look at him -

  9. OMG that's so sweet!! What an incredible mom you are. It made me laugh and cry. Thanks!

  10. My son, Max plays Miracle League baseball in North Carolina. This league is invaluable to us. Max has a ball and we've met the most awesome people. And my husband is now the main announcer. All the kids have theme songs and a nickname and they are announced as they come up to bat. My husband cracks the crowd up, like when a kid skipped all the bases and just circled the pitcher's mound and came back to home, he said: "And Bobby does a Reader's Digest version of a homerun...!" We play for 8 weeks in the spring and 8 weeks in the fall, and we miss it terribly in between. Because of my husband's announcing, we often stay for other games... Tyrannosaurus Max loves to go and sit with people he's never met and make sure they cheer to his satisfaction. If I try to get near him, I get "bye-byed."

  11. Thanks so much for sharing that. Loved the video clip!

    The topic is similar to a story I just posted ( Check out the link re this hockey team for kids with special needs (

    It even got me thinking that maybe Ben could do hockey (even though we've never found a pair of skates that would fit his tiny feet).


  12. I love hearing about Miracle League, Upward and other programs out there for kids with special needs.

    Louise, your comment made me realize that I totally forgot to mention (I think I've blocked it from memory) that we tried taking Max to a hockey team for kids with special needs, but he hated being in the skating rink—too loud, with all the echoes—and cried for twenty minutes before we left. Here's the league, American Special Hockey:

    Felicia, kickball's great, that was my favorite camp game to play as a kid. We need to play more of that at home.

    I am sorry to hear Junior can't do baseball right now. I hope he can get back into it.

    Andi, so wonderful about swim team! Max loves to move around in the water, I hope he can someday swim. He does this pretend move where he puts his face in the water and waves his arms, so it's a start.

    Kath: Your brother CAN play a sport! Check out some of the options here.

  13. I'm a new follower of your blog. My son Lucien is 8 and he also has CP. He uses a power wheelchair and can walk with a gait trainer for short distances. He's rather slow walking. It's all about concentration for him. He plays t-ball on a regular team. He is the oldest kid on the team, but he would t be able to play baseball with kids his age with any effectiveness. There are no leagues for kids with disabilities in our area that I am aware of. Lucien also loves hockey and got a hockey sled this past winter. He is a swimmer too. He likes watching sports as much as playing. You post has inspired me to search for alternative leagues or maybe form one myself. Thanks!

  14. Okay, I cried.

    I know my son Max has played t-ball and even done archery at school. I just hope one day I get to see him in action!

  15. We play Miracle League. Kate is 9 and has been playing ball since she was 4. She played regular league, and won the city championship twice, before her mito kicked into high gear. She played one year in the regular t-ball league with her walker, but we've found now that Miracle League is just a lot more fun. I swear it's the most festive place in town. The younger kids play first, then a team with older teens and what looks like adults even. One of the adult team coaches is mildly mentally retarded.

  16. I actually wrote a post about that earlier this week...

    As you can see, my experience wasn't quite "all that" yet, but we keep going, and no, I am not letting him off the hook. Yes, I know he's 4. :-)

    The hard thing for me is that he spends so much time around soccer that he really understands how to do it. His sister plays on a club team and we're either at a game, practice or tournament depending on the day. He can kick the ball with either foot, he can block shots, and he can steal the ball. Today, he went and stayed for 1/2 the time, which is huge. At scrimmage time, we decided to pack it in and head for the farmers marekt. But during the practice part, he kept running up to me to say "I'm not very good at this." Last week he said that with a frown. This week he said it with a sheepish smile, which tells me he's trying to get a reaction out of me. Sheesh.

    So glad Max is enjoying baseball. There are so many advantages to sports, especially America's pasttime. I hope he's having as much fun as you are (sure that he is!).

  17. Hey, Ellen! Just left you a comment. It sounds like he is actually doing really well, and that he does understand. Seems impressive for a four-year-old!

    I realize I'd forgotten to mention here (probably because I've blocked it from memory) that we also tried taking Max to ice hockey for kids with special needs this winter, but he sobbed for twenty minutes, the echo at the rink was too loud for him. The program is through American Special Hockey Association, a national group -

  18. I coach an AYSO VIP team. We have a wide range of abilities and an amazing group of buddies! This is only our second season but I'm really happy with how it is going so far! Plus, the parents all get a chance to chat while the kids play, which I think has forged some new friendships.

  19. Hi Ellen:

    Here's a link to adaptive sports here in San Diego. It'll give you and your readers ideas of what may be out there in other cities.

  20. Sarah Kate has done swim team with her typical peers and it's been a great experience for her. I was initially hesitant, but she's received the benefit of being on a team with typical kids without being a detriment to the team itself (in terms of skill). She is always working to improve because she competes with her own prior times. The exercise itself has been really good for her, too, of course. At the end of last summer, she received an award for "Most Inspirational Swimmer" which made her really proud!

  21. I agree that sports are really great for kids with special needs! I have a connective tissue disorder myself, which includes a serious heart problem. In high school the swim coach was willing to work with my cardiologist so that I could join the swim team. I was no good, and I didn't do everything that my teammates did, but it was a HUGE self-esteem boost for me. I want to find that for my sons.

    I decided to sign M up for a "parent and me" soccer class through the rec commission this summer. It's 5 lessons. I'm a little nervous about how he'll do sensory wise, plus it's with typical kids and he has some gross motor delays. Hopefully he'll have fun though, and most importantly, it's something just for him and me to do together without 1) therapists and 2) his baby brother. :-)

  22. My son Seth loves to play Basketball and the program that we use is called Upwards. What I like about that program is no matter how much experience you have playing all of the players get equal playing time. This organization also has Soccer, Cheerleading,and Flag Football. He use to play soccer also with the same program but he decided that he didn't like it so we quit after the season was over.

  23. I have an 11 yr. old daughter named Bailey. She was born with multiple disabilities; intellectual and medical. Three years ago at her annual school IEP the subject of baseball came up. I mentioned how my husband recently had pitched a few to Bailey and we were astonished that she actually hit some of them! Immediately the group told us of our local Challenger League baseball and I immediately signed Bailey up. Now, she is not exactly a natural and most of the time she is socializing rather than paying attention to the game. But this has been a great experience for the whole family. And no one smiles brighter when they get to 1st base after a hit than our Bailey! She makes us so proud and happy. Sports are great for ALL involved!

  24. In St. Louis, there is a great organization called TASK (Team Activities for Special Kids).

  25. One of the things we talked about at my Max's IEP was him playing t-ball at gym. I would have loved to see that!


Thanks for sharing!