Sometimes The Disability Issue Sucks

When I got the AYSO sign-up announcement in Micah's school folder, I gave it some serious thought before tossing it in the trash. While I think he'd really enjoy soccer, our local AYSO is made up of kids in District A where we're located, of course. Micah attends school in District B because our school system doesn't have a Life Skills class for him, so he's bused elsewhere. He just wouldn't know any of the kids in our local AYSO and it would be hard for him to fit in. Plus there's the thing where he's just not physically able to keep up with kids in his own age division. He would do so much better with first and second graders than where he belongs with third and fourth graders, but would anyone make an exception and allow him to bump down?

So I chose not to give Micah a chance to play soccer this year, for better or worse.

And then I talked to a friend who suggested he join District B's AYSO team. A friend of ours was coaching the first and second graders, and my friend's husband was the assistant coach. Both their boys would be on the team. Micah knows their boys, and both the men know Micah and his abilities. And lack of abilities. One of my concerns was a coach that couldn't grasp the fact that Micah may not grasp the rules. He'll totally get that you kick the ball, but I can see him becoming very confused as to which goal he needs to head toward. Would a coach be understanding?

This could well be the perfect team for Micah to start on. And I was told that the coach's son was moved up to his team, even though he should have been in a lower division, so obviously exceptions would be made to accommodate needs.

On registration day, I talked to the person at the sign-in table about Micah's Down syndrome, explaining that he was not physically able to keep up with kids in his age division. I explained that it would not be fair for those kids to have to play with a kid like Micah, who would be much like a toddler on the field and completely messing up their game. Plus, kids in the third and fourth age bracket are really getting into their competitive groove, and Micah could physically be run over or knocked down by kids whose goal is to win. And based on these facts, which is in everyone's best interest all around, I respectfully asked if Micah could bump down an age bracket.

People were consulted. They discussed things in depth. Heads were shaken, arms were waved, and a decision was made. The rules state that a child must stay within his age bracket, and they absolutely could not make an exception. They were very sorry, but if they made an exception for one child, they'd have to make exceptions for others. They wanted to help, really they did. And in fact, there is a VIP program within the AYSO, made up entirely of kids with handicaps, so that they have a safe environment to play in. And we're so fortunate to have a VIP program right here in the county! But unfortunately, we do not have the contact information for them, so if you'll give me your name and number I'll have them get in touch with you.

I came home that day in a less than charitable mood toward the county's AYSO heads. I get that exceptions can't be made, but I knew that one already was. I chose not to point this out because I didn't want to ruin it for that little boy to be on his dad's team. My plan was to get in touch with higher-ups in the AYSO to see if someone had the authority to allow Micah to play where he wouldn't get hurt. At I found the VIP program outline, and instead of looking for someone to contact about our local organization, I emailed a message the VIP to ask for a contact person in our area.

Over a week has passed. I have not heard from anyone. I have not heard from the local VIP head, I have not heard from a local coach with information on how to contact the VIP coordinator, and I have not gotten a reply email from AYSO's VIP program. Quite frankly, I'm frustrated. I am not adamantly demanding that my son be allowed to change age divisions despite rules to the contrary. I am not expecting special treatment because my son has a disability. But is it too much to ask that someone care enough about the square peg that doesn't fit into the round hole?

Acceptance. It's not too much to ask, is it? I want Micah to feel like a normal kid, because he has enough to overcome already. And now I'm wondering if I even want him to play in the AYSO at all. They have not shown me that they care enough about helping kids that are different find where they fit in. How can I trust them to care enough about my son when he's on the field, playing his heart out, but running toward the wrong goal?

When did AYSO stop caring about the kids?


AZ Chapman said...

I was bumed down lots of times during my AYSO career I was in San Mateo Ayso.

It's too bad that mich can not be in inculsive education

The Sports Mama said...

Well, I can't speak for AYSO, but i can speak for the Little League baseball program. (Well, maybe not FOR them so much as ABOUT them.) Having served on our local Little League board for the last several years, I know firsthand that exceptions can be, and often are, made for children like Michah....those square pegs in a round hole society. So, my suggestion is not to give up on all youth sports programs.....just find a different one.

(And if you want some guidance in the Little League area, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the right people.).

You know my opinions on how amazing youth sports can be for both our youth and our adults. I absolutely believe that applies to ALL our youth....not just the ones who understand the rules of the game from the first time they step on the field.

(Keri) Auburn Gal Always said...

Our local recreation league is not part of AYSO but has rules that allow for advancing past a kid's age group if the situation allows it (skill level, coach=parent, etc.) I honestly don't know about moving down though. I do know that they require a birth certificate copy for every single sport and every single season of every single year. (Seriously, can they not make a file for the Always family and pull the copy out from the last time I provided it?) My friend's son with DS never played any team sports for the same reasons you are encountering. Two years ago, a local cheer gym started a special needs cheer squad that goes to the competitions and cheers. They get uniforms and the whole shebang. It's the greatest thing for him and his friends. I really hope your get some response from AYSO local and national. They should be ashamed.

Maybe you should tweet it. Look what happened with his Voice when you wrote about it!