Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wondering If A Special Needs Activity Is Right For My Son

My son’s special needs soccer league wrapped up this past Saturday.

This is the fourth year that Kai has been participating. When Kai first started, there were enough kids that they had two groups, one for older kids and one for the younger ones.

The kids had a wide range of disabilities, with several requiring volunteer buddy kids to take their hands and help them go up and down the field, to direct the ball toward their feet, or to point them toward the goal. Other kids were able to function independently.

I recall one boy in the younger group who was an excellent soccer player. He was so talented that I first wondered why he didn’t play on a team with typical kids. When he had the ball, the “coach” (on the field) would sometimes defend him to make it more challenging, or to get the ball over to other kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.

As the weeks went on, though, I could see that this boy had trouble keeping his emotions under control, getting angry on several occasions. It was not unlike how Kai gets many times.

In those early seasons, Kai did not play well. Physically, he should have been fine, but he rarely ran after the ball, and frequently complained about how he was too tired to play. I was seemingly constantly yelling at him to run and go after the ball.

It was frustrating for me as other kids with disabilities more severe than Kai’s were enthusiastically playing hard.

But gradually, Kai started to play better. It helped when a classmate of his joined the team and they could run up and down the field together.

Over the past couple of seasons, though, several of the more able kids stopped coming out. That talented boy from the first year had long since stopped coming to the games. And this season, all of the other kids at Kai’s level, including his classmate, also dropped out. Kai was now the most capable soccer player left on his team.

In recent weeks, attendance among the kids still signed up was poor. We barely had enough kids for one game, let alone two separate groups. One week we had only four kids come out, meaning that they played a two on two. With the disabilities of the other kids, they didn’t play a game so much as just taking turns with each child having a chance to kick the ball down the field and scoring.

Back when there was a wide mix of kids, it was tough to balance the varying needs of the kids. But it usually worked out well enough. Sometimes the more able kids would run and pass and try to score like in a real game. Sometimes the volunteer kids would get the ball to a less able child and make sure that they had a chance to kick the ball.

Now, with no other kids at Kai’s level, I no longer felt like cheering him on to play hard or try to score. Though Kai now plays like I wanted him to before.

This past Saturday, at our last game, Kai ran, dribbled, kicked, and got off some really hard shots.

One of the parents of a volunteer buddy child commented to me, “He can really play!” He may have even been wondering what my son was doing playing in a special needs group.

But then it started to rain. Kai started to scream, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

There was no thunder or lightning. The rain was really light. He wouldn’t calm down when I tried to tell him there was nothing to be scared of.

And so Kai’s panicked screams drew stares from the volunteer kids and their parents. I think they might have figured out why Kai was in this group.

And so we’re left with a conundrum. Kai is still not capable of playing on a “real” soccer team with his typical peers. But it doesn’t feel like the special needs team is right for him anymore either.

I love that the special needs program exists. I think this is a great activity for these kids. I’m glad there are wonderful volunteers who make it possible.

I just wonder whether it is right for my son now.

I think one of the difficulties of having a child with special needs is finding an appropriate placement – in school, in therapy, and in extracurricular activities like this. I’ve learned that just because something is labeled as being for kids with special needs does not necessarily make it appropriate for my particular kid with special needs.

Well, next soccer season does not start until spring. We have a few months to think about it.

Here's a photo from earlier in the season of Kai with a couple of the volunteer buddies:


  1. Perhaps another sport? My son did soccer for 1.5 yrs. We then pulled him from it, as he was not really enjoying it. He then did Karate instead...and loved it. I know Kai has taken it before, and he may still be taking it. Several times a week of the Boxing or Karate, instead of soccer, may prove to be beneficial.

    1. Individual sports are easier for Kai in many ways, so it looks for now like we will stick with just the boxing, which he has only once a week. It's not looking like we'll find a team sport where he fits in.


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