Special Olympics Bowling

We just finished the last week of our first experience with the Special Olympics. We have tried out sports through similar organizations in the past like the Miracle Youth Softball League, and I can definitely see some similarities with these types of programs but some notable differences as well.  It always helps me to know ahead of time as much as I can about any program we will be starting with our boys, so hopefully those who are unfamiliar with the program can take today’s write up and at least have an idea of what to expect. So, let’s go over some of the highlights and our take aways from our son’s participation in our local Special Olympics Bowling:

1. It was Free

Always a nice perk when the cost is covered. I am unsure if it is always like this, since as noted previously, this was our first year participating. The program was once a week and continued for nine weeks in total. 

2. Physical to Start

I’m not going to say that it is unusual for organizations to require a physical before participating in a sporting activity. I will say that we have not been required to complete one for any other sport (special needs or otherwise) that our children have been in thus far. It was a much more detailed physical form than I am familiar with as well (the doctor even commented on the extent of what was required), but one office visit and we were still able to have it completed and out of the way. Those running the program did good to note that we should have the doctor write that it was good for “all sports” and then the form would cover any Special Olympics activities that my son would want to do for the next three years before needing to get another form completed.

3. Not Only for Children

One of the big differences that we saw from this program compared to that of Miracle Youth Softball was that it was not only for children under the age of 18. This was not necessarily a problem, but in general it felt like this specific sport was set up more with the adult participants in mind. I say that first off just based on the sheer number of adult participants versus child participants. The lack of child participants may have had to do with the start time as well since it was set for 3:15 on a weekday. This apparently worked well for many of the adult schedules but most of the local schools including my sons were not even out yet at that time. They made accommodations for the time allowing us to start once we arrived but there may have been many parents of children who may have wanted to participate but didn’t think or feel comfortable asking or even think to request that accommodation.


4. Large Crowd and Lots of Waiting

The turnout, especially for the adult crowd, is quite large. Add in care providers and other families in attendance and you have yourself a pretty packed house. It was not the easiest to maneuver around the area, and since we had to hurry from school pick up to make it each day it left me no time to get helpers, so I was stuck playing a three on one situation with no extra hands to assist. It was loud and a bit crazy. Also, due to the number of adults participating, and us being unable to get there right at the start, it left us needing some of the older groups to finish before the younger crowd could even get started on a lane. And anyone who knows my son, knows that patience is not really his virtue. They did limit the amount of participants on each lane to about 2-3 which at least made the games speedy once it was his turn to play at least. We powered through but the crowd plus long waits definitely had an effect on my son’s participation effort and overall enjoyment of the game. Most days he was ready to leave before his turn for bowling ever even got started. And I don’t think this was a situation only felt by our family because I noticed a few kids in similar situations that did not continue on with the season after the first couple weeks.

5. Routine, Parent interactions, and Rewards

The first week was very rough, to the point where we almost decided to opt out of the rest of the season, but with hopes of improvement we stuck it out. Slight improvements that we ourselves decided to not rush to the venue since it always took a while until our son could get on a lane to bowl. We built a bit of a routine with our weekly visits with an eat in town award after our bowling session to help incentivize participation and good behavior. I was happy he stuck it out and a big perk that you get with most of these types of programs is just getting to talk a little bit with other parents in similar situations to you, which I always appreciate. The talks may be brief and often interrupted as we help out our kiddos, but nice, nonetheless.

I am not sure if all our local special olympics activities are set up in similar ways or if this is just how bowling is done, but I do think for this specific sport it would be very beneficial to have separate times for children and adults, not only to accommodate times that work for children who still attend school but also just to thin out the crowd a little bit and not make the place seem so overwhelming for those who struggle with sensory overload. I think this could have reasonably been achieved with really only a small amount of coordination, having adults with a 3:15 start time and those under 18 set to start an hour or hour and a half later. It may make for a slightly longer night for helpers but a more enjoyable experience for the kids overall.

I know it probably feels like I am knocking this program more than giving it the credit it is probably due. I truly do appreciate anyone who sets up activities like this and those who volunteer their time. I think it is so wonderful to have all these opportunities for people with various disabilities to participate, but I also think there is always some room for improvement and even little changes that could be made so that participants can enjoy the activity to its fullest and want to continue going and playing and interacting with others. We will continue to keep trying out these programs and hopefully we will find some good fits for our boy to enjoy.

For more information on Champaign County Special Olympics check out their facebook page