Adaptive Sports Gave My Son and My Family a Renewed Love of Movement

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When I receive the phone call from the snowboard instructor, I know the routine fielding this type of call.

My son was having behavioral issues, crying, melting down, and not being able to follow directions, and I needed to leave work and pick him up from the (prepaid and non-refundable) week of sports camp, after he only attended one half-day. 

By the time my son was 6, we’d already picked him up early from art camps, forest preschool programs, karate classes, and summer recreation camps after calls from similarly exasperated sounding camp counselors and teachers. Back then, we hadn’t received any formal diagnoses and we managed difficult meltdowns at home with what came naturally to our family- attachment, big hugs, and love. But we stopped signing him up for camps and sports. 

A few years went by and we felt a bit like outcasts. 

My son did not play any sports and I felt like he was missing out on friendships, teamwork, exercise, and community building. I knew from past experience that school and town recreation teams and programs weren’t a good fit for him, but I didn’t know what would work better. I had heard about Special Olympics and adaptive sports but didn’t think we fit in. I mean, our son didn’t have a formal diagnosis, and we didn’t want to selfishly take opportunities away from other families. A dear friend of mine with a special kid said something that really hit me,

if you don’t fit in with them, you’re with us.

This loving statement granted me the permission I needed to explore adaptive sports programs with my son. 

What Are “Adaptive Sports”?

adaptive sports soccer

Adaptive Sports are sports that have been modified in some ways for people with disabilities. The sports can be competitive or recreational, team-based or individual, but they allow people with disabilities to play in a way that is fun, fair, and inclusive. 

The thing is, I hadn’t thought of my son as having disabilities and had to reflect on what that word meant for my son and my whole family. If we couldn’t access recreational sports in our town, that seemed to mean we needed adaptations. I didn’t know at the time what those adaptations could look like for us, but the professionals within the Adaptive Sports community did. 

Why Adaptive Sports? 

 ping pong

Connection, confidence, endurance, achievement. I wanted my son to have all the benefits sports allow. Most of all, I wanted him to make friends, be active and have fun. And I also wanted something we could enjoy together as a family. 

As I see it, just like abled-bodied folks want to participate in sports so does everyone else! The mental health benefits of sports like reducing anxiety and depression, and improving sleep quality and concentration are important for everyone. This review shows an overview of the positive social impacts associated with outdoor sports in the following areas:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Education and lifelong learning
  • Active citizenship
  • Crime reduction
  • Anti-social behavior

Who Can Access Adaptive Sports? 

adaptive sports trampoline

For my son and my whole family, Green Mountain Adaptive Sports has opened so many doors. Green Mountain Adaptive Sports is a non-profit founded in 2010 whose mission is “to improve the quality of life for people living with a disability residing in or visiting Vermont through access to sports and recreational activities.” They focus on getting people out and having fun! 

Our first program with GMAS was their Ski and Ride program. My anxiety about our family fitting in was quickly eliminated as I completed the GMAS application form. I was so excited, I felt like, they got us! There was a place on the application to describe the applicant’s disability, but there was no judgment, no metrics determining if my son was “disabled enough”. 

I realized Adaptive Sports were for everyone who would benefit from them.

The application asked questions about other sports experiences that did not work out and about what adaptive equipment might help my son. We completed the form and received a scholarship for the program at Stowe Mountain for 6 ski lessons. Thanks to both Stowe Mountain employees and GMAS, my son had private lessons with a skilled adult who he connected with. Our family participated in the lesson too, 3 adults and our other son all followed the ski instructor in a pizza pie formation down the mountain. My son felt proud of his accomplishments and loved that we were all included. 

adaptive sports- kayaking

We continued to try other programs with GMAS. Our family’s favorite new activity is kayaking at the Waterbury Reservoir. Did you know there are adaptive kayaks that have mounted paddles and all sorts of adaptations for the seat and the grip? This eliminated my son’s fear of falling out of the kayak completely. He felt safe. GMAS knew what my son needed, provided him with access to equipment that worked for him, and set him up with a specialty-trained Physical Therapist who took him kayaking weekly all summer. 

Our hallways at home are now filled with framed photos of both of our kids participating in sports and outdoor activities. My son feels proud and included. 

swimming pool adaptive swimming

We’ve also become big fans of swimming thanks to GMAS. Their partners at The Swimming Hole in Stowe provide adaptive swimming classes. Swimming helps improve memory, cognitive function, immune response, and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain. As a doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I find all of this science fascinating. As a mom, I can feel the benefits in my son as he relaxes and feels his body move freely.  

Adaptive Sports are for everyone. They can include competitive sports and team sports, or not. They can also be individual sports for fun and activity. Disabilities do not have to be visible to be welcomed into the Adaptive Sports community. 

How Do I Find Programs Near Me? 

basketball

There are many ways to find adaptive sports near you. A good place to start is with your child’s primary care provider, physical therapist, or occupational therapist. They may have resources close to you. Our experience with Green Mountain Adaptive Sports has been awesome, and if you’re around central Vermont, connect with them.

Other resources include: 

If you’re in New England, you can start at Adaptive Sports New England

For adaptive sports throughout the U.S. start at Challenged Athletes Foundation

We’re just at the beginning of our journey to find adaptive sports that my kiddo loves. I look forward to finding more and to watching him thrive in an environment that is designed for his success.

What did I miss? Comment below about other awesome Adaptive Sports opportunities in Vermont or elsewhere. We’re all in this together, so let’s connect and keep our kids active and smiling!

Sources:

Eigenschenk, B., Thomann, A., McClure, M., Davies, L., Gregory, M., Dettweiler, U., & Inglés, E. (2019). Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society. A Systematic Literature Review and Reflections on Evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(6), 937. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16060937

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