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Special Needs Awareness

Summer Fun for Kids with Special Needs

Programs, camps, sports and other available resources

May 01, 2011
Area youth of all abilities are on high alert for summer leisure. So bring it on. Bring it all on. The shades, the sunscreen, the summertime fun.

Local organizations like the YMCA, Special Olympics Indiana, and Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation are poised to helping Indianapolis-area Kids with Special Needs indulge in their need for a good time in and out of the sun. Read on for ideas on how to make summer 2011 one for fun.

It's Fun to Play at the YMCA

The YMCA, particularly the Baxter branch, offers a slew of programs for kids with special needs. In fact, the branch offers session-based programming for this community of kids throughout the year. In the summer, their programs last six weeks and include adapted dance, gymnastics, martial arts, a sensory motor class, WAVES aquatics program, and even adapted personal training.

Tammy Ward, senior program director over youth and adult sports for the Baxter branch, said kids have a great time participating in the YMCA adapted programs because for many young ones, this is the first time they are experiencing the sport or activity at hand. She also said the instructors do a great job of integrating different elements or skills into each lesson, so the sessions are not identical week to week. Notably, however, the instructors location and class times are consistent throughout the session to add structure that helps many kids feel comfortable.

Currently the YMCA is equipped to teach kids with mild to moderate special needs, though they are looking to grow their program to be able to take on kids with more severe needs. Ward said the YMCA's commitment to serving kids with special needs is huge.

"The association is very mission driven. This is not an area that generates a lot of revenue but it's important because it's important to the community. We want to grow and expand through partnerships," she said.

Anyone in the Indianapolis community or surrounding areas are welcome to participate in the programs. YMCA membership is not required. Ward also said families are welcome to observe a class before committing to registering.

Summer Games Kick Off Season of Fun for Special Olympics Indiana

Special Olympics Indiana is another venue for fun, be it summertime or anytime, for kids with special needs. The big event that area families are currently looking forward to is the summer games June 3-5 in Terre Haute, Ind. Youth sports include swimming, track and field, cycling and volleyball. Whether a participant or spectator, these games are sure to be a great time for all.

Fans can also look forward to the state softball competition for boys and girls slated for August, the equestrian competition in early September, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Games that include: flag football, volleyball, golf, and distance run and walk, in late September. Kids interested in participating in any of these events can contact Special Olympics Indiana directly to learn how and where to train for the competition.

Kids should know that Special Olympics Indiana is serious about sports and sees itself as a sports organization, meaning kids are trained in the rules of the game and are held to those rules, even if modified.

"We're here for athletic training and competition. We take both hand-in-hand," said Jeff Mohler, vice president of programs for Special Olympics Indiana. "We want them to learn the sport itself, just like any high school or college athlete would."

To accommodate the varying skill levels and interests of its athletes, Special Olympics Indiana offers three team sport options. The first is the organization's traditional program that puts athlete against athlete. A second option for athletes is the unified program that features teams in which half the teammates are typically developing peers and half are kids with intellectual challenges. The third option is the skills competition. This is for competitors who cannot play a full game or do not recognize the team concept in sports. This option breaks a sport into individual components where the athlete earns points on individual skills.

Mohler said the organization brings different types of enjoyment to different kids. "It depends on what the athletes are looking for. We have some who are into it for the competition, so it's a chance to prove themselves on the court or field of play. Other athletes are into it for the social activity, meeting new people, making new friends," he said.

He points to the unified program as a venue for a higher level of competition that allows the athletes to meet people who do not necessarily have special needs. Mohler said the unified program is extremely successful and popular among area high school students who are required to do community service to meet graduation requirements.

Turn Up Summer Fun with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation

Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation is another go-to venue for kids with special needs. Its program, under the direction of Brooke Taflinger, inclusion supervisor for Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation, is flourishing and this summer is sure to prove to be no disappointment. Through Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation, kids with special needs will be able to participate in soccer, a sports skills development class, and a lawn games program that includes golf, bocce ball, whistle ball and other fun games the kids can in turn teach their friends or family. Other activities include a new program called Walking in Nature that utilizes the city's beautiful Central Park trails and water walking program in the Monon Community Center's lazy river. There's even a prom in May, summer luau in July, a monthly karaoke night and a teen night out program that benefits the entire family.

Taflinger has been with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation a little over two years and is now starting to see trends in regards to which activities the community responds well to and is building the programming from there. She said individuals are continually drawn to the center's fitness and social programs so she tries to be as creative as possible in the execution of the activities and in coming up with ways for the participants to socialize and interact.

And kids with all types of needs are welcome in the Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation programs. "We make accommodations as needed depending on whatever their needs are," she said. In other words, parents should not be too quick to think their child can't be well served by the planned activities. Taflinger said any child with a special need is welcome to participate in the programs and that any program can be broken down to its fundamental skills and adapted to meet the needs of any child. Further, the team in Carmel is prepared to make these accommodations available.

Like the YMCA, kids do not have to be a member of the Monon Community Center or a Carmel resident to participate in the parks and recreation programs.

These are just a few of the many resources available for summer fun activities created just for kids with special needs. Keep watch in the Indy's Child's special needs community calendar for other interesting activities on the horizon.

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Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and life. Contact her at freelancewritercarrie@gmail.com.

Tags: Enrichment, In This Issue, Kids, Parenting, Party and Entertainment, Special Needs

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