September 25th, 2020
My daughter Emma has some special needs. So when she tried out for her middle-school track team I was wary. Would they all adjust for my fragile daughter?
In my experience, many parents of children or adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities have had to manage altered treatment in the world for their loved one.
Here are 4 ways I’ve learned to navigate preferential treatment for children with disabilities:
At her first meet, after all the other heats were run, Emma was finally crouched at the starting line next to three other girls. They all had good starts, but the other girls pulled back, purposely letting Emma take the lead. She jogged to an easy win and beamed from the cheering and PA announcement.
“Are you proud of me?” “Are you proud of me?” “Aren’t you proud of me? I won!”
I assured Emma I was enormously proud of her for even attempting the competition, and for completing all the work required to get to the first meet. When we got home, mom admitted she was proud too, but she had one question: “Do you think those other girls were running as fast as they could?”
Emma burst into tears. She knew the race was fixed, and she was embarrassed.
I wrote the team’s coach, thanking her for the kindness, but asking whether it’d be better to let my daughter actually compete. The reply surprised me.
Emma would lose badly, the coach warned, and her self-esteem was therefore at risk.
I wrote back.
Would it really be bad letting Emma truly compete? Even against herself, comparing practice times to meet results?
Should we instead prefer that Emma be misled to believe she could win a 100-yard dash? Or that she can rely on preferred treatment because she has a disability?
I’ve met some amazing people on this fatherhood journey, and am often stunned at the patience and kindnesses shown to my daughter.
But I don’t demand or expect these kindnesses, and I don’t think Emma should either. I prefer Emma knowing who she really is and what she’s really capable of.
And I want others to see that too.
Emma came in last in the following races, but she was winded and had really tried her best. And at the last meet another girl with disabilities was competing too.
Emma was elated, the crowd cheered loudly for her, and so did I.
At the outset, I worried whether the coach and team would adjust for Emma. Turns out I didn’t need them to.
My daughter certainly needs accommodations, but more than that, she needs real empathy. I learned things will inevitably be better when we listen to her, and can just let her be herself.
What are some ways you have navigated this issue in your own life? Let us know on Facebook!
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