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Archive for Monday, September 10, 2007

Parents concerned low participation will take away children’s opportunities

September 10, 2007

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Special Population Program

Annette Deghand, special population supervisor, discusses the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department's Special Population Program.

Kiera Snodgrass, 9, takes a swipe at a softball Wednesday at Wakarusa Valley School. Declining enrollment has the Snodgrass family worried about the future of the Lawrence Park and Recreation Department's special populations program, which allows children with special needs to participate in sports in the community.

Kiera Snodgrass, 9, takes a swipe at a softball Wednesday at Wakarusa Valley School. Declining enrollment has the Snodgrass family worried about the future of the Lawrence Park and Recreation Department's special populations program, which allows children with special needs to participate in sports in the community.

Special Populations

The Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department's special populations program is open to a variety of children, said Annette Deghand, the program's supervisor.

Deghand said that historically, the program - which began in the 1980s - has served many children with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome or autism. But she said it also has served children with physical disabilities.

Generally the youth league serves children from the ages of 5 to 12 years old, but age guidelines are flexible. For more information, contact Deghand at adeghand@ci.lawrence.ks.us or 832-7920.

It all started with the doctors.

When Kiera Snodgrass was born with Down syndrome 10 years ago this week, the doctors almost immediately began setting the bar low.

"I don't know why they do what they do, but they made it sound like she would never amount to anything," Dennis Snodgrass, Kiera's father, said of the doctors.

Her parents say Kiera - with dark eyes that look kindly even upon strangers, and a seemingly constant "glad-to-see-you smile" - proves them wrong every day of the week.

And on Friday evenings, she proves it on an athletic field. Kiera has been a frequent participant in the Lawrence Parks and Recreation special populations programs. Sometimes it's soccer, sometimes it's baseball, sometimes it's basketball.

But lately, it's been nothing. The last two scheduled youth leagues for the special populations program have been canceled because of a lack of participants.

The cancellations have left Kiera's parents concerned about what opportunities their daughter will have for play in the future. The Snodgrasses believe in integrating Kiera with other children without disabilities, but they said they don't believe it is realistic to put Kiera into normal youth league athletic programs.

"It would be another frustration," said her mother, Denise Snodgrass. "For so many of these kids, everything is extra work. School is extra work. I mean everything is extra work. It is important to have something where they can just go and play and have fun."

Declining numbers

Annette Deghand, special populations supervisor for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, isn't quite sure what has led to the decline. She just knows it has been significant in the past year.

For example, the late summer, youth baseball league was canceled because only five children signed up. The same thing happened earlier in the year with the program's Mystery League, a league where the sport is changed each Friday evening.

The cancellations are concerning to Deghand because she believes they amount to more than just lost games. They're also lost opportunities.

"It is frustrating because our philosophy at Parks and Recreation is to make sure we provide opportunity for all individuals," Deghand said. "It is a passion of mine to make sure that individuals with disabilities get treated just like anyone else."

One explanation, Deghand said, is that many of the former youth league participants have grown up and now participate in the department's adult league special populations program. For example, the adult softball league has 36 participants.

Deghand, though, said she knows there are still significant numbers of younger people with disabilities who can take part in the program but aren't. She said crowds for the special populations nonathletic events - such as summer camps - are still at 20 or more people.

She said some new parents of children with disabilities may not be signing their children up because they're fearful their children will fail in the sport.

"I think they are real apprehensive to sign them up for that first time," Deghand said. "They are visualizing that my child may not understand the concept of running to first base or something like that. They know their child can't succeed without some assistance or flexibility in rules.

"But we do all of that. Sometimes we have volunteers run the bases with kids. And we change plenty of rules, and we make up plenty of rules."

For most parents, Deghand said, the apprehension seems to quickly wash away after they see sights they never thought they would.

"A lot of us take so much for granted," Deghand said. "We think it is not that big of a deal to see a child shoot and make a basket. But there are families out there who have told themselves that they are never going to be able to see that. Then, when they do, it is just priceless."

A mighty swing

A blond ponytail sticks out from underneath the blue batting helmet atop Kiera's 9-year-old head. It is a perfectly pleasant Wednesday afternoon at Wakarusa Valley School. It's a family moment. Kiera is taking pitches from her dad. Her 13-year-old big sister, Nicki, is doing the catching. The backdrop: A nostalgic playground-baseball field with a dirt infield and patches of grass where grass is not supposed to be.

It is a Rockwellian scene. Except Kiera isn't a Rockwellian subject. Her frame is small for her age, her neck is short, and her face has the uniquely shaped eyes and facial features commonly associated with Down syndrome.

Kiera isn't like the other kids. Dennis and Denise will tell you that. They are past that point now. But they know some parents of children with disabilities may not be. They suspect that may be why some new parents aren't signing their children up for the Parks and Recreation league.

The Snodgrasses understand.

"You have to admit your kid isn't typical," Dennis said. "So : "

"It is another time when you have to face that reality," Denise said, picking up where Dennis left off. "Sometimes that gets a little old. When you live with that person, they become normal to you. Then anytime you have to sit down and look at or be faced with the differences, it can be difficult.

"Sometimes it is, 'I just don't want to be part of that world right now.'"

Dennis said he definitely felt that way but now has found the experience of Kiera participating in the program invaluable both for her and him.

"It has made an awful lot possible, and the hardest part was giving it a try," Dennis said.

Back on the field, Kiera is oblivious to it all. She's just a kid. But, oh, what a cut she takes with the bat. She swings the tiny aluminum bat like many other kids - big and wide and free.

"Just missed that one," Dennis says to her as the ball falls to the ground.

Kiera turns to a group of two or three spectators, smiling as big as any child. She enjoys the audience. Earlier in the afternoon, she had proudly told one of the spectators that she was a hitter.

She turns back around. Another ball is on the way. She smacks it hard, leaving the playground ping of aluminum in the air. Before her dad can even get to the ball, she's turned around to the crowd again.

If possible, she's smiling even bigger this time. Maybe, she's smiling in particular at the spectator she had spoken with earlier. The smile says the words that she sometimes has problems speaking: "See, I told you."

Praying for basketball

October is when the Parks and Recreation Department hopes to begin its basketball league for special population children. If it gets canceled, Denise fears it will be a big disappointment for Kiera.

"She wasn't very happy when baseball was canceled," Denise said. "We're just hoping and praying that basketball comes together."

In this crazy town atop the hill, people have prayed for basketball before. But maybe not for reasons quite like this.

"You know, she doesn't perceive herself as being any different than other kids," Denise said. "You can't tell your kid that she is different than the other kids, and that's why she can't play.

"I can't do that anyway. I'm hoping I don't have to tell her that."

Comments

Kat Christian 7 years, 3 months ago

I have a sister with downs. When she was born 50 years ago the Doctor told my mother to institutionalize her. No way, she said. Back them they were just developing schools, programs and the Olympics were just a dream. But now look at the progress made. I think if you have a highly functioning downs kid you should allow them to participate in activities with the regular kids. You'd be surprised what downs kids can do and what they can teach regualr kids. Downs kids are a gift to mankind. It's a shame people stare rather they approach with a greeting, it a shame there is so much ignorance on the planet. I love these people.

coolmom 7 years, 3 months ago

i have a 15 yo son with downs. he is awesome. when he was born a nurse told me that i should give him up as i was young and could have more kids. quite a shock.

ontheotherhand 7 years, 3 months ago

Lawrence Parks and Rec does the least amount of advertising possible for its sports programs. People probably aren't signing up for these events because they just don't know about them. Sorry, P & R, but not everyone knows about your brochures. How about an occasional promo on a few of the TV and/or radio stations?

Good luck to young Kiera and her family!

Sean Livingstone 7 years, 3 months ago

Though I don't have anyone in my family who has this medical or genetic issues, but I'm a strong support of many programs. Don't worry, your interest and participation alone will keep everything running!

ilovekansas 7 years, 3 months ago

I am so proud of Kiera and her parents for realizing that Down's Syndrome children are capable of doing alot more than many professionals including doctors give them credit for. Twenty eight years ago, my brother was born with Down's Syndrome. I was just 10 months old and my parents were in their early 20's. The doctor and both sets of my grandparents immediately told them to institutionalize him or they would never have a normal life. My parents refused and faced many obstacles that we as a family overcame. For example in the 1980's the school district where I grew up refused to allow my brother to go to normal classes at all because they didn't want the other students to "mix" with the special ones. My parents ended up suing the school district and won. Their lawsuit set the standard for today's educational inclusion programs in the state of Kansas. My brother attended all regular classes (he did have a paraprofessional for some subjects) and graduated just one year late. Today he is a responsible caring young man who lives in his own apartment and has a part time job. I can say that I am never prouder of him or my own parents for going against the odds.

StirrrThePot 7 years, 3 months ago

Parents of children with disabilities should involve their kids in sports and activities for the same reasons parents of "normal" kids do the same--to learn new things, meet new people, and interact with others. Not to mention the child with disabilities will feel good about themselves in the process. I really hope these special programs acquire higher enrollment so they can keep going. They are invaluable to childrens' growth and development and can greatly help a disabled child's potential and life experience.

Eileen Jones 7 years, 3 months ago

A friend with a Down's teenager convinces me that although these children differ in ability, what their parents and others do with that ability makes all the difference. That family handles their situation with grace and courage and make every effort to give the child challenges and appropriate educational situations. The are a vibrant, active, normal family in every way. It helps that they had three other children. Because the Down's child loves cats, they have seven cats. The parents find ways to lead normal lives themselves which is wise because the whole family benefits from the parents having interests and full lives. The Down's child is always doing something full-time. She graduated high school at 20, and has a full-time job. If you looked at her or heard her spoke you'd assume she was very severely impaired. She was - but she is performing extremely well because she has been nurtured and challenged every step of the way. Nobody ever, ever gave up on her. She is joyful and the joy is contagious.

Kat Christian 7 years, 3 months ago

I agree Parks and Rec don't advertise enough. I miss out on so many programs for my grandson. I never know when the books will be out, plus most programs are canceled and they don't have enough activities for ages 4 & 7 and for boys. They seems to focus more on girls then the boys.

dlenz00 7 years, 3 months ago

The Douglas County Special Olympics has a pretty strong program in Lawrence, with Basketball being a very strong program, with 5 teams, 2 of which are for younger athletes (need to be 8 or older). Lawrence Parks and Rec has a great program and many of the participants of Special Olympics will participate LPR as well. There is more information and contact information about the local special olympics program at www.douglascountyspecialolympics.org....

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