When you’ve got young kids, family calendars typically are packed with activities, too many sometimes. Eventually, you find yourself explaining to one why he can’t join a third baseball team for the summer. But why not, Mommy? Because Mommy will lose her mind, that’s why not. Darling.
For kids with special needs, the opposite is true. Pickings are slim. Oh yeah, there’s this or that program, typically a long way from home.
Why is distance a problem? Because when you’re a child, proximity is where you make your friends – at school, at the playground, at the library, in the neighborhood.
Proximity is the magical happenstance that connects us to our lifelong friends.
So when you can’t find neighborhood activities for your child, what’s a parent to do? My suggestion: Don’t take no for an answer. Do it yourself!
The easiest approach is to ask a coach, instructor, or scout leader, for example, to include your child in an organized local activity geared to typical children. Someone will say yes, from the heart, and likely make the experience positive for everyone. Find that someone.
Another option is to jump start something new.
Twenty-plus years ago, I stopped being timid and alerted my local recreation board to the unmet need I saw for recreation for children with disabilities. Our calendar was full of activities for all of our kids, but one.
They had no idea. They needed a special-needs parent to open their eyes to what was invisible to them.
So began a program in our community called Adapted Sports for Kids (ASK), offering year-round recreation, generating fun and friendships, and going strong today.
Noni’s ASK favorite? The dances, of course! Our dancing queen sings and struts with anyone or just with herself, and saves slow songs for Daddy.
During her teen years, we became interested in Special Olympics, and so were other families in our area. We got together and started a small and growing local chapter.
Our kids with disabilities are swimmers, cyclists, sprinters, golfers, bowlers, basketball players, and power lifters. Who knew!
Families and volunteers pitch in, and our athletes haul in the hardware – in gold, silver, and bronze – accomplishing more than anyone ever thought possible.
Three years ago, Special Olympics asked us to pilot a new program, Young Athletes, for little ones ages 2 to 7. In no time, we rallied new volunteers – cool college grads, inspired by their own experience going to school with special-needs classmates.
The program is a hit, not just for small fries, but for parents who’ve found a support group.
Special Olympics was started by one woman, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and look what it’s become. So, how hard can it be to start something on a much smaller scale in your neighborhood for your child?
Who else will?