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Adaptive Programs & Athletics

I remember the first time I saw Morgan break a sweat.  It was just a few years ago (she was 8), when she stepped off the ice from her first Minnesota Special Hockey practice and took her helmet off.  Her head was soaked, her face was flushed pink, and she was exhausted from working so hard to try to skate.  I smile now at this picture in my mind because it’s something most parents wouldn’t think twice about (sweating has been a near-daily occurrence for my active son since the day he started running) but for Morgan, this was a sight that nearly brought me to tears.  I remember thinking it was so amazing to finally find an activity that she could get such great physical exercise from. 

We are a family that loves sports, I am a firm believer in keeping my children active with whatever activities they are passionate about and we encourage them to try new things.  Whether it be music lessons, hockey, baseball, Rubik’s cubing, dance, football, art class, cheer, swimming, and so on, there are so many benefits for children to be part of something.  They develop physical and motor skills, get exercise, make friends, improve their self-esteem, learn teamwork, and have fun!  For neuro-typical, able-bodied children this is simple, you find your local community and sports organization(s) and sign them up! The options are endless and the most challenging part is figuring out what they like best and navigating schedules.  Their chosen activities shape their core group of childhood friends, and entertainment values, and (hopefully) keep them busy and out of trouble.  

For children like Morgan with special needs (whether physically disabled, neurodivergent, or children with complex medical issues) finding activities and sports to participate in is MUCH more challenging.  We started looking for activities for Morgan when she was a preschooler but realized early on the options were limited for a child who couldn’t yet walk, had poor attention span, and limited fine motor abilities.  We started with music, something that seemed therapeutic and catered to her sweet little voice.  After spending hours researching online and asking her therapists and hospital resources for recommendations, we settled on the MacPhail Music Therapy adaptive program.  Taught by board-certified music therapists, she loved this amazing program and it gave her something to look forward to once per week.  But, like most adaptive programs, it was far (thiry-minute drive each way), expensive, and individualized.  We then found an adaptive dance program at Studio 4, another amazing program and a chance for her to interact with other children with disabilities like her but also nearly a thirty-minute drive away.  A couple of years later we were thrilled to learn about a Darby’s Dancers program opening at our local Prior Lake Premier Dance Academy and made the switch so she could meet friends within our community.  I believe Darby’s is still the only adaptive sports option in our city for elementary-age children.  As Morgan grew older, she wanted to do and try all of the things she saw her brother and cousins participating in.  Over time, through various resources and word of mouth, we have found many awesome adaptive programs in the Twin Cities area and Morgan has been fortunate to participate in MN Special Hockey, Shockwaves Adaptive Waterskiing, Courage Kenny Adaptive downhill skiing, and Miracle League Baseball.  

These sports and her activities bring her so much joy and have helped her physically and cognitively.  I love that she now has the confidence to participate in our family backyard baseball games and she can pridefully wear her hockey jersey to school on jersey day like her classmates.  We are so grateful for the programs that do exist but realize the barriers to entry are still so high for many children with extra needs- distance, costs, diverse abilities, resources, and even aptitude to find them!  Children with special needs already require so much EXTRA (frequent appointments, therapies, extra time to get out the door, additional time on school work, more coordination of resources, the list goes on) so adding a long drive to an activity that should be fun often just causes more stress. 

Morgan has also asked me many times why she can’t be a Laker and play for Prior Lake like her friends and brother.  I wish I could give her a good answer to this!  As a community, I believe we can do so much better to be more inclusive with our offerings to accommodate children (and adults) with disabilities and extra needs. 

There are over twelve hundred students in our district receiving special education services yet there is not a single adaptive program offered in our community education program.  Our city boasts more than 55 parks and close to as many baseball/softball fields used by our athletic program but not one of them was built with our adaptive athletes in mind.  Even activities like Choir or Play Theater, which may seem very accessible, are challenging for someone like Morgan who has dyslexia and can’t read the lyrics/script as quickly, could be easily modified to better accommodate.  It is something we should all be mindful of for programs and events, to explore possible modifications and accessible offerings for people with physical and cognitive challenges.  Some activities might require minor modifications to be more sensory friendly or better cater to children with cognitive delays and of course, other options like building an adaptive baseball field or park require much larger financial support, but as a community, it is important to give opportunities to citizens of all abilities!  For me of course, my passion to help and support local adaptive programs is fueled by the smiles and joy I see them bring to my daughter’s face and the adaptive athletes and buddies around her. 

Originally posted and the rest of Morgan’s Mission journey here – Morgan’s Mission Blog

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