There is something familiar, no matter what your age, about this time of year. It's the smell of new crayons, seeing shiny new backpacks in stores, and the promise of all the fall fun to come when the park district brochure arrives in the mail.
Beyond school though, fall means sports and getting back into the rhythm of after-school fun with friends. Whether it is soccer, gymnastics, or martial arts, kids not only gain athletic skills but they also learn the social skills that come with being part of a team.
It can be so important to be a part of the team, especially one with your peers from school or your neighborhood. These relationships carry over from the field into every aspect of life. For some children it can be their entire social circle. For a child with a disability, though, this time of year may produce a bit more stress than for their peers. With a learning disability there might be a struggle with understanding the concepts or difficulty following directions. A physical disability may make it troublesome to keep up with the rest of the team.
It's hard enough just being a kid sometimes. You spend so much time trying to figure out who you are and what makes you … well "you." Depending on your age, you're trying to figure out how to either stand out or how to blend in. Having a disability can make things more difficult or a little more complicated.
Help is at your local park district.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals who have special needs cannot be discriminated against and therefore have the right to participate in programs with their peers in their home park and recreation agency. Inclusion services are designed to meet an individual's specific needs within a program and afford them every opportunity to perform at their highest level of ability.
What that means is that when you sign up your child for a program at your park district, you can ask for help specifically for your child. Working together, park districts and local special recreation associations (SRAs) provide inclusion services so that every child can have the best possible experience.
So what can you expect? Once you check off the box requesting special accommodations, the conversation begins with what specific concerns you have about your child's ability to participate fully and what can be done to give him/her the best experience possible.
Typically, the local SRA conducts an assessment working closely with the family to determine the goal of the inclusion experience. They want to identify the overall goal in having your child participate. What type of disability does your child have and at what level can he or she function? What are your child's strengths and what can be done to build upon those strengths to help him or her successfully participate? Is the goal to develop a new skill, looking for social interaction or trying to elevate his or her level of independence?
Specific support may come in the form of training for park district staff or coaches, to providing adaptive materials, to providing a one-on-one support staff, or anywhere in between. Once the necessary accommodations are determined, it is up to the SRA and the park district to facilitate the process.
For instance, a child with a cochlear implant may have some, but limited, hearing. Among other things, SRA staff would work with the instructor or coach on the need to have eye-to-eye contact with the child when giving directions. This assures that the child is aware of every communication made and gives the instructor the necessary tools to keep the program running smoothly.
For a child on the autism spectrum, perhaps a trained staff to "buddy up" is the best option. A buddy can be someone who is dedicated to working with the child to keep their focus and to guide him or her throughout the program.
Or maybe it is as simple as slight modifications to the materials or equipment used. Perhaps a grip on a golf club or bat can be enlarged so that a child with limited gripping ability can swing better.
Additionally, inclusion services are far from static. As your child grows and develops, his or her needs change. So too do the type of services used. A child who required an inclusion buddy early on may find that only slight material modifications are needed years later.
The best part is that inclusion services are at no additional cost to the families.
So this fall, with just a little extra help, your child can hit the soccer field with peers and have the best experience possible.
Join the conversation at our blog at wdsra.com. Parents are encouraged to speak directly to other parents, share thoughts, offer personal stories, and educate each other on topics that affect them in their everyday life.
• Sherry Manschot is the marketing/public relations manager at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. She leads a parent network of special needs families at WDSRA. Manschot can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about WDSRA can be found at wdsra.com.