As my five-year-old has cerebral palsy, and uses a push chair for mobility, looking for activities that can be inclusive for him can be a challenge.
This week, the spring season of Little League Challenger baseball began. This will be my son’s second season playing. Challenger Baseball accepts youth ages 4-22 (as long as they are in school) with special needs. A buddy without special needs (ages 8-17) is assigned to each player to assist them on the field.
My guess is that most people would probably say the primary reason they put their children on a baseball team is to play and learn baseball. This is not on the top of my list for him. It doesn’t even make the list.
Frankly, I don’t anticipate baseball will ever be an area of strength for him due to his significant physical challenges. But here’s why we made the decision to sign him up:
To experience the joy of belonging
Too often children with special needs are not able to be included in the same way as their typically developing peers. This includes my son, who is dependent on others for mobility. Even at the park when we carry him from play structure to sandbox to swing, he can’t experience it in the same way as the other children due to his dependence on adults. He can’t run up to another child to initiate a game, play chase with another child, play follow the leader, use the slide independently, and so on. With baseball, he gets to do everything all the other kids are doing. He gets to run while being pushed by his buddy from base to base, hold the bat, strike the ball and watch the activities from the outfield. It’s as close to normal as you can get, as all the other players have buddies to assist them as well.
To learn sportsmanship
He will learn that being part of a team means that you work hard, play hard, and accept the consequences. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. But in the end you show respect, commitment and team spirit and the prize is in the journey not in the end result.
To practice patience and learn turn-taking
This is an important life skill for all kids. Due to his multiple disabilities, he is going to have to learn patience at an even faster rate than his peers because he cannot act on his impulses to grab what he wants when he wants it, nor can he communicate his wishes verbally as effectively as many of his peers. Patience is going to be key to his emotional well-being.
Again, this is an important life skill. My wish for him is to continue to work hard and strive to do his best, and not give up. This is transferable to other areas of life well beyond the sport, including physical, emotional, and developmental tasks.
To build up his self-esteem
I never want him to feel the sense that he cannot achieve things he wants to. There are ways to adapt most things to make it accessible for him regardless of his physical abilities. The pride and joy he experiences by being part of this team are clearly palpable even to those that do not know him.
Because it was available and affordable
Let’s be honest, often times programs, activities, and products for children with special needs are ridiculously overpriced. A season of Challenger Baseball is $100 and well within our budget.
We are so grateful for this opportunity for him and look forward to continuing the Spring Season! We are unexpectedly gifted by the bright smiles his participation brings to other folks watching the games, the pure joy shining on his face when he travels from base to base, and the friendships that are growing for him and for us as a result of his participation.
If you are interested in learning more about Challenger Baseball and how you and your children can participate (with and without special needs), contact your local Little League Chapter.