Did your household follow the Olympics or Paralympics this summer? At this year’s events — one got the sense that athletes with special needs had a choice. They could train and compete in the regular Olympics like Oscar Pistorius or train and compete in the Paralympics like Tommy Des Brisay. And London – this year’s host city – graciously gave athletes with special needs star billing regardless of which sport they chose.
For schools with students with special needs, to have these types of choices is empowering. We wish all after school activities were set up similarly. The reality is that it many special needs children aren’t given the option to participate in mainstream sports programs for a variety of reasons. Here’s three things we’d like to see coming out of this year’s Olympics and Paralympic Games.
- More options for special needs students to participate in sports. School administrators and parents know that some children with special needs are not ready to participate in mainstream after school sports as they need the extra attention. Use the example of the Olympics and Paralympics positively and consider creating separate after school activities for students with special needs. The important thing is that students engage in sports in a setting where they can develop and compete with others equal to their abilities.
- It’s not about winning. It’s about making progress. Athletes at the Olympics and at the Paralympics feel undeniable pressure to win. After school sports for most children with special needs should be about celebrating your child’s progress to personal independence. Don’t focus on winning but on meeting individual milestones.
- Bring special needs sports back into the community. Athletes like Oscar Pistorius at this year’s games had us riveted. Likewise, the recent story in the New York Times about Jacob Rainey, a high school quarterback who is training to resume playing with his team after a below-the-knee amputation. This kind of media attention is unprecedented and gives all of us who care about kids with special needs the opportunity to bring sports programs for our kids front and center in our communities.