A few weeks ago, Ian came home from school with a flyer for little league in his backpack. It listed three days in January that you could register your child, and it listed the teams by age groups. I saw that there was a T-ball team for 4 and 5 year-olds. OK, perfect, he can play T-ball with his peers. Further down the page, it listed a "special needs" division for ages 6-18. Alright...well, he's not 6 yet, so he'll do the T-ball...right? I wasn't sure which division Ian should belong to, so I went to the leagues website for more answers. There were none. The website listed the same information as the flyer - no descriptions of any of the teams, not even the "special needs" league. Luckily, there was a contact page, so I was able to get the e-mail address of the T-ball coach. I explained the situation we are in with Ian, and basically asked if Ian should play on the 4/5 T-ball team, since he was not yet old enough for the special needs division.
Long story short, the league went back and forth - never telling me Ian could play for either team. They were checking to see if a 4 year-old could play on the special needs team. I questioned why he couldn't just play on the T-ball team - neither the website nor waiver form I downloaded said anything telling me he couldn't play on that team. I thought other kids from his 4K class would probably be on the T-ball team, and I wanted him to be able to play with them. It's just T-ball for 4 and 5 year-olds...it's not serious baseball, right? He's just a kid in a wheelchair - he can still play. After weeks of waiting around for an answer, the league finally told me that Ian couldn't play on the T-ball team, but he would be allowed to play on the special needs team. By the time they got around to figuring that out, all the registration days were over. I told them that, and they responded that we could register Ian anyway. By then I was so frustrated from the back-and-forth that I didn't even want to deal with the league any more. Maybe next year.
I'm feeling torn on this issue.
On one hand, I want Ian to be able to play with his friends, on their team. I've made my peace with the fact that Ian is not destined to play MLB baseball, but why can't he just play on the T-ball team with the other 4 and 5 year-olds? Why does he have to play on the special needs team? I feel that Ian is being marginalized by only being allowed to play on the special needs team - especially at this young age.
On the other hand, it's probably a small miracle that a special needs team even exists. Kids who otherwise would never have the opportunity to play baseball can experience the game and a team in a no-pressure atmosphere. I shudder to think that Ian would feel uncomfortable on the T-ball team because he is not physically on the same level as the other kids. I want him to be on a team where he feels normal and accepted.
I guess, at the end of the day, I wish that I as the parent could choose the team for my son. Honestly, I probably would have chosen the T-ball team for him this year. If he didn't seem to like it or feel part of the team, we could have tried the special needs team next season.
It's wonderful that special needs programs exist - especially for things like sports, which can feel impossible when up against a physical disability - but it also seems like it can be a way to pigeon-hole kids like Ian. It doesn't really feel like full inclusion when you're forced onto a certain team because of a difference. It's double-edged sword, really.
Today a soccer mini-camp flyer came home in Ian's backpack. It's only 5 practices for kids from 4K to first grade - just to learn the game and have fun. Even though Ian already plays TOPSoccer, I'm tempted to just sign him up for it and take him on the first day to see what happens.