By Russ Ewell
Twenty years of experience parenting children with special needs has taught me a simple truth. Every now and then we need to make ‘Big Bets’.
I was reminded of this reading about Larry Page and his leadership of Google. Incremental change is not enough. Innovation will require a “Big Bet” at some point.
“Big Bets” don’t have to involve medical treatments or therapies. Sometimes they need to be about giving our children an opportunity to develop their potential. Sometimes they involve technology, social development, or inclusion.
“Big Bets” are about success rather than mere survival.
A Segregated Future
Some years ago I was frustrated by the lack of inclusion in our community sports programs. My son and I were participating in one of these programs, when we discovered they operated like the traditional public school system.
Instead of participating alongside his typical friends, my son was separated from them, and placed on a team exclusively for those with special needs.
At the time, special needs teams were cutting edge. After all, prior to this program those with special needs were left out completely.
It was a great program with superb families, but a segregated future was unattractive.
In this future, my son would not select his friends. They would be chosen for him. He would be relegated to a place where special needs people ‘belonged’, regardless of his existing relationships. He would have no choices.
Quality of Life Matters
This didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t the injustice, because I understood why it had to happen. Practically speaking my son couldn’t compete with typical kids. So what was the problem?
I didn’t believe his inability to compete should cost him his friendships. Typical kids play t-ball and little league for years before they experience this type of separation from their peers. We don’t usually separate young kids out according to ability.
Each child is able to use those early years to develop athletic skills, but even more importantly to build friendships. If we took the separated or segregated path, my son would miss out on these opportunities to grow with his typical friends. He would receive something less than the quality of life he deserved.
Quality of life matters.
E-Soccer is Born
My wife and I wanted our son to grow up with typical and special needs friends. We wanted him to be part of mainstream society, and able to experience the quality of life we had growing up. We didn’t think this quality of life would be attainable, if he were constantly being sent to the ‘other’ room.
I decided to make a ‘Big Bet’.
I started talking to friends. These were parents of typical kids whose children my son considered his friends. I also started a conversation with some former soccer players who had competed at the highest levels.
I told them about the studies of foot to eye coordination compared with hand to eye. Foot to eye happens more quickly. They were intrigued.
I shared my conclusion that soccer was the best sport for my son, and asked for their help to launch an inclusive soccer program (later named E-Soccer).
We had never heard of a fully inclusive sports program, but over a decade ago that is exactly what we started.
Exceeding All Expectations
My son and I pulled out of the community program, and together with about 8 other families began our inclusive efforts. It was scary at the time, but we entered with well defined expectations.
All we wanted was for my son to experience a childhood joy similar to our own, where he and his friends could play, laugh, and grow together. This happened and more.
The typical parents came with the singular expectation that they would support special needs families. They were delighted when their children received hands on guidance from the great players who served as our coaches.
Additionally, many of the typical parents were thrilled with the character development of their children. They saw them becoming more socially aware and empathetic.
This “Big Bet” exceeded all expectations.
My son and his friends are college age now, and remain close. He sees them every week if not every day. They share their campus experiences with him, and celebrate every time he passes one of his online college courses.
These friends are the subject of the San Jose State Spartan Daily story ”Speakout Club Boosts Kids Confidence for kicks“.
Their story and this article was the result of a ‘Big Bet’. That ‘Big Bet’ is now helping hundreds if not thousands of other kids experience an inclusive future.
This is why I believe every parent of a special needs child should make a few ‘Big Bets’. In the midst of all the incremental development steps, we need to take a few big risks to insure the future we dream for our children will become a reality.
This article was originally published at digitalscribbler.com.
Russ Ewell is Founder Hope Technology Group, E-Soccer, and Digital Scribbler Inc., the creators of Quick Talk AAC. He is an Autism & Down Syndrome Advocate. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ as well as his website Digital Scribbler.