Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sports and Special Needs

I've mentioned on this blog before that my son TJ was born missing the lower part of his right arm. He just turned five, and so my mind has been turning to the issue of organized sports. I have five sons, and so for most of my adult life, I have been sitting in bleachers cheering them on. TJ hasn't started a sport yet, but I feel he is now ready to be part of a team. However....now the question comes up of "which way do we go"?

When I say that, what I mean is....do I enroll him in a group specifically for kids with special needs, or do I try to get him started on the "regular" city league? I see pros and cons to both. Just today I was forwarded this amazing video of an eight year old boy with one leg who plays catcher for his baseball team. It is definitely an inspiring two minutes that you can watch by clicking here:

I watched Adam play and thought, "truly an example that a person can do anything they desire if they work hard enough at it." But then I have to admit I wondered if his parents were heavily involved in the sporting part of his life. I am not athletic in any way, shape, or form. I'm the reason people use that horrible line of "you throw like a girl." My kids have always been at a bit of a disadvantage as far as having a mom out there coaching them or giving them pointers. That's the main reason why I am leaning towards the Endeavor Games, especially since our local college is one of the national training centers. These leagues are specifically set up for kids with special needs, and I am hoping I can find a coach who would help TJ come to love sports and who would help him build his self-confidence.

However, this idea has met some resistance from some of my friends, as they feel I shouldn't limit TJ by putting him into a "special" program. They feel he should play in the regular city league so that he could see that he could accomplish anything he puts his mind to.

So my question for the day is.....do you have a child with special needs who is involved with sports? How do you approach the issue of inclusion? I would love to know what has worked or not worked for your family.



  1. Hi Amy! I didn't know your TJ has a limb difference. Our Benjamin, 2 1/2 is missing fingers on his left hand. Coming from a 'sports' family, I would say allow TJ to play regular sports. These kids just figure out ways to make things work, as you know. A few years ago, there was a little boy, missing an arm, American born, who was on the baseball field playing my Zachary's team. He was so amazing. Then we saw him on the soccer field...and then basketball team. God had planted a seed in my heart and prepared me for Benjamin several years later. Benjamin will be athletic and he will have no problems figuring it out. He will be right there with his 3 1/2 year old brother. I'm sure TJ will be great,too. I would love to see Tj's pictures if you have them posted. :)

  2. I played sports throughout grade school and highschool with kids who had limb differences. A boy missing his leg to his hip (baseball)... a boy who had no use of one hand in highschool (tennis, baseball, basketball and football)... a teacher (who received many awards from highschool sports... name is still on the wall)... a gentleman with no use of his arm (tennis)... a boy in highschool tennis whose arms did not have the bones from the elbow to wrist (no sure what it is called) all of these are general leagues off the top of my head 20 years later... ekkk...

    It always amazed me their skill level... if at all possible, I think you should put him in the regular leagues... I think it would be great for your son and for the other children as well!

    Don't forget the great sport of tennis... I played all the way through college (scholarship) and let me tell you... there was a gentleman I knew who had use of only one arm... I don't think that I ever beat him!! ;) There is a way to manage tossing the ball for the serve and using one hand to hit it... takes some practice but very do-able!! :)

    Now I am in process of adopting a child with limb difference... and am considering sports and activities, so I know exactly what you are thinking...

  3. Good morning, Amy! We're getting into the sports things, too, with Zhong (RAE) nearly five and Tie (LBE) now eight. We don't have the special team options, we barely have enough kids to field school teams if pretty much everyone of the right age goes out for the teams. Which is great, actually, because being on the teams is about doing your best and being a good team player, and it gives all the kids a good chance to learn and grow as players. Both our guys are capable and athletic in their own ways, and they want to play with the other kids. Tie has more of an issue with being shorter, but he's solid, fast, and not just a little competitive. He'll be fine, a little more growing and basketballs and such will just fit him better and be more manageable. Zhong's a Jiangsu guy and if he keeps up the growing, he's heading for six feet. He's still in preschool, so sports for him right now is about mastering things like swimming, swings, skating, etc. and all the running around and climbing.

    Our idea is to let the kids check out options, when they exist. We don't have the sports options but we do have a camp for kids with limb diff and next summer we'll see if our guys want to try that in addition to regular camp. But so far they've both chosen to do things with the other kids, in their own ways.

    Our project for next summer is figuring out paddles and oars that will work for the guys. Rigging some kind of positive grip arrangement for their short arms ought to work.

    'Course, they'd both rather run an outboard, but that choice has nothing to do with limb diff. . . .

    All the best, love to know how it works out with TJ and the teams,


  4. I would lean toward the regular league, but I don't have a child with limb differences. I have run into a another sort of question: How do I tell my 3-year-old that she CAN'T do taekwondo and soccer and anything else that is contact? It is like she goes out in the yard and shows us what she is made of every day, and wants to do the things her brother does so badly. But she can't b/c of her complex heart disease. :((( I have tried to tell her but she either doesn't understand or doesn't want to accept it.

    I think we may try dance when she turns 4. She seems to like that, but she seems to have a natural athletic side too. So hard sometimes! I wish she was well but she is not. Thanks for your post!

  5. I'd check out both options, let TJ try both, then let him decide what he wants to do within the options that are acceptable to you in terms of time commitment, safety, cost and schedule.

    Does he have a buddy to join a city league with? I'd start with a city league, perhaps with soccer or a sport that doesn't highlight the limb difference for a first experience. If he want to go for a sport that might highlight the need for accommodation, go for it! It will teach him to find a way to reach his dreams.

    My sister-in-law has Down Syndrome and grew up playing baseball with her brothers, so knew the fun of the everyday pickup game and playing with the neighborhood kids. Later, she was involved with Special Olympics and a special needs bowling league. These also gave her great opportunities.

    Regarding children who have conditions that preclude participation, focus and seek out activities where you can say "yes". Give choices among safe options to give your child control of the choice.

  6. This summer, after all this time, I finally talked Emily into trying that tricky catching-then-throwing a baseball with only one hand. She can run, throw and hit, but she has never felt like she could do "the rest" and join a softball team.

    She turns out to be great at it, I'll have to email you a little clip I took of her on vacation. But she still says she will NOT join a softball team next year. I sure would love to see her try...it would be good for her, and good for the other children too. I have no qualms about the regular league, and it's really the only option here. I'll encourage her, but it will have to be her choice. Stay tuned!

  7. I am so grateful for all of your comments on this subject. It's definitely helped, and I think I am going to try a YMCA league for TJ and see how he does. I also emailed the Endeavor Games people and they put me in touch with a group called Blaze Sports, which has leagues for kids who have special needs as well. So it looks like I have lots of options. Jan, thanks for the clip on Emily throwing with one hand.....she is amazing! I know TJ will be so excited to see the video.