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Getting into the Game

The value of sports transcends disability

The value of sports transcends disability
June 2013

Participation in sports can be a game changer for kids. Whether in a competitive league or a recreational activity, children who are physically active gain more than medals. A boost to self-esteem, building healthy bodies and developing positive lifelong habits are just a few of the benefits kids in sports can achieve. Sports can also give a child a community in which to belong. This is significant for all kids – including those with Special Needs. Craig Peterson, Indianapolis dad of six, each of whom has a special need, knows this well. "I think as with any child, whether he has a disability or not, sports allows you to develop both confidence and a sense of competence that's important for everyone," said Peterson.Two of his sons are Special Olympics athletes. His oldest, Andrew, 20, has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years. He also competed alongside typical athletes throughout school, earning four varsity letters in high school cross country. Andrew has fetal alcohol syndrome, so his intellectual impairments and symptoms are similar to ADHD. While always a successful competitor on his school cross country teams, he never felt fully included. Peterson recalls a sixth-grade Andrew struggling to understand the cross country coach's directions. His disorder-related struggles were not well tolerated by the coach or teammates."I could just tell even though he was able and one of the better runners on the team he wasn't entirely welcome. And even though my son had a disability, he picked up on that," he said.So Andrew gave Special Olympics a try. There he found a venue where he could compete with other talented athletes, but in a more accepting environment. Special Olympics grew into a beloved community for Andrew, who now speaks publicly on behalf of the organization."In Special Olympics Andrew has become a known athlete and is now a role model to hundreds of other athletes. He's also a true inspiration to other parents because they see what Andrew has been able to accomplish and that gives them hope for what their own child may be able to do," said Peterson.Running has made a difference to Andrew. If you are considering a sport for your child, getting involved is easy:

Seek out area adaptive programs

There are more athletic opportunities in the Indianapolis area for kids with special needs than parents may think. Baxter YMCA, Monon Community Center, Carmel Dad's Club, IUPUI Motor Activity Clinic and Special Olympics are a few top-notch programs to look into.

Ask your child what sports he likes

Running? Swimming? Gymnastics? Martial arts? Horseback riding? Soccer? Baseball? Gymnastics? Dance? Hiking? Adapted programs for these interests and more are offered right here in central Indiana. Most are affordable and some are even free.

Put your toes in first

Some children are hesitant to try new things initially. If your child is uncertain, don't jump into a sport feet first but instead ease him into the activity slowly. Talk together about the sport, watch a game or two at the field where he will practice and go from there. Small, cautious steps may ease anxiety.

Try school sports

Just because your child has a special need does not mean he cannot play school sports. If that is a direction your child wants to go, pursue it.


Why not enjoy the sport together? Your child can participate as an athlete and you can help the program by donating time and energy. Some programs like Special Olympics depend on volunteers. Your effort could go a long way to help not only your child discover the joy of sports, but bring this enjoyment to other potential athletes as well.

Tags: In This Issue, Parenting, Special Needs

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