I had to plead with our city’s soccer league to let my 7-year-old son play.
I registered Arlo and his almost 5-year-old brother Emil months ago for the fall season. Since Arlo has Down syndrome I requested he be put on the same team as his little brother, thinking that is the perfect way to accommodate his developmental delays. I signed them up early so the league would have time to make adjustments and ask questions.
I got a call about Arlo 2 weeks before the first game. I returned the call multiple times to no avail. I sent emails. Nothing.
The first game is 3 days from today. They have already had practice. And my boys have not been assigned to a team.
I called again, lost the smiley tone, and started talking about a refund. Someone finally got on the line.
That person tells me that he is concerned that Arlo, as a 2nd grader, will be bigger than all the other kids on the younger teams. I inform him that Arlo is small. People think he and his little brother are twins.
He tells me there is a separate league designed for kids with disabilities and they play on Sunday. I reply that is wonderful but I don’t believe in segregation and would like for him to play with his brother.
He tells me that the coaches are volunteers and have their hands full. I assure him that I am a hands on parent who will be there to assist whenever necessary.
I inform him I do not appreciate having to deal with this sort of rhetoric in this day and age. He tells me he has consulted with school officials. I laugh inside as I tell him he should be consulting with parents.
Long story short: my son is playing soccer in the city’s recreation league.
Why does this have to be so hard?
Why do I have to feel guilty for wanting my son to be included?
Why do I have to feel like I need to make excuses for my son and apologize because his extra chromosome means that he needs some extra assistance?
Why do we have to separate kids at such a young age?
Are parents worried that my child’s presence will hinder their child’s chances of being the next Pelé?
Why do I have to cart my kids around to separate leagues already?
Adaptive programs are great. Special Olympics are awesome. It is wonderful that they exist. Arlo has utilized them in the past and I’m sure will participate in the future.
But right now, I want him to play soccer with his brother. I want to walk to practice at our home field with the other kids in our neighborhood. I want him to kick the ball around. I want him to lay in the grass and do his thing if he doesn’t feel like following directions and not feel like I need to apologize for him being him.
No, my son is not like all the other kids … but he’s not that different either. He has every right to be on that team.
I should not have to feel guilt or shame to make that request. Nor should it be implied it is some sort of gift to our family to “see how it goes”, as if this is some trial period the league will use for all children with a disability who sign up in the future.
In fact, it is a privilege to have Arlo on your team. He will teach the coaches, teammates, and opponents more than you’d ever realize. You just have to give him a chance.