My husband and I were always very active as kids. We both participated in the basic sports programs offered through our local community and we kept with it remaining three sport athletes through most of our schooling. We always pictured that our kids would be similar. We hoped that they would find a love in the extra circular sports the same way we had. When Damion got diagnosed, we knew that this too, like so many other things, could be something that he may not be able to do. But if you have read my other posts you know that we are pushers. Occasionally, we like to push Damion out of his comfort zone and try new things. We decided to make an attempt at some participation in sports. We figured, worst case scenario, it would go really bad and we wouldn’t do it again. We set off into this new venture with our own made up set of ground rules.
We did our best to set him up for success from the beginning. Our first tactic was to start him young. People are far more considerate and far more accommodating for kids with special needs than they ever used to be. But we didn’t want to be parents affecting the outcome of games when winning was actually a top priority. We knew (in our community at least) that the first age level of sports is more like herding cats than actual competition. Winning is a plus for sure, but most parents are generally happy if the kids follow the rules at this point. So, starting in this age group would be the most ideal for our trial with him.
Second priority was to choose the right sport. We knew, ahead of time, that certain sports would work better than others. My husband and I both have a love for baseball. We both played all through our childhood and in an ideal world this would have been our first pick for a sport for our kid. Unfortunately, we knew well ahead of time that baseball would not be a good fit for Damion. It may not always seem like it if you have ever watched a T-ball game, but the rules for baseball are pretty strict even at the younger ages. It requires standing at your position for a decent amount of time, being able to hit the ball and run specific places, and knowing what to do if you do get a ball hit to you. There are too many variations in positions for him. Damion has all the basic physical skills for the sport, but he doesn’t have the patience for it. We needed something that accommodated his shorter attention span. Something that people could easily swap in another player if his cooperation was low. So, we went for soccer.
Soccer had an ideal set up for Damion (not to mention in his very young, pre-regression days, he showed quite an affinity to kicking a soccer ball). In the beginning age groups, it is generally just kids running around back and forth trying to kick a ball into a goal. There are essentially only two positions, those on the field trying to score, and the goalies. Unless you have an amazing coach and a lot of kids that actually listen all the time, most of the other stuff is learned in later years. It was a sport that he could hop in for a short amount of time, and easily be switched out when he wasn’t willing to play. Parents are right in the mix of everything, so it was easy to have one of us out there helping him as well.
That brings me to our next stipulation. We always offered to be assistant or helper coaches, but gave them a heads up that the majority of time, we would only really be able to help Damion. Being a helper coach allowed us to be on the field with him. But helping him was nearly a full-time job in the game and practice. So, trying to be a head or main coach would not have been possible. We did our best to be as fully upfront and transparent about the entire situation with those who organized the program and any coaches. Thankfully what we found were wonderful people who were fully accommodating to what we needed.
I do sometimes think that he may have done a little better if we would have found someone other than us to help him through games and practices, sort of like an aid that he has in the classroom but for this. We find that many times he actually will follow directions better from other people than he will if the same directions come from us. Aside from hiring someone to do this job I am not sure who the person would have been, but for others looking to venture into this, it may be worth looking into options.
Following all of these same basic guidelines, we were able to keep him in fall soccer for three years. We started young enough that he qualified for the youngest age group for the first two years and by request, we asked if he could be held back one additional year to play on the same younger team as his sister. With our situation, they didn’t have a problem with that request at all. In the end, he didn’t seem to have much interest in the sport. We thought maybe as the years went on, he would, but every year was about the same. We did an ABA style reward system where he would get a small reward when he did what we asked. So, he would speed through, do what we promoted, and immediately leave the field for the reward. We still got good practice with sitting and waiting. It was still a good environment for him to interact with other kids. So, in my book, I still consider it time well spent.
Sometimes in my mind it is hard to completely throw in the towel for sports since physically, Damion could probably dominate. It wasn’t uncommon for me to hear comments from others about how fast and how strong Damion seemed for his age. I still remember one time during a soccer game, we told him he could be “all done” if he kicked the ball, and he left all the other kids in the dust as he sprinted past them to kick that ball, and then he instantly walked off the field. Physically it is all there, he just lacks the interest. Now that Damion is getting older and would be moving into the more competitive age groups, we have opted out of soccer. We may start to look into programs that are specifically designed for special needs at this point (look at your county board of DD as there are various opportunities on these), or based on interest we may opt out of sports altogether and look into other hobbies that he may potentially find more interesting. The whole experience may have not gone as well as I had hoped, but I think it was good for him overall, and at the least, it was a learning experience for us.