I mean, he does have Down syndrome, after all.
It’s been a month now since it happened, but the sentement is not going away, so I know I need to blog it out.
And before I hurt anybody’s feelings who has worked with Noah or the amazing facility and people that provide the hippotherapy experience, please know in my heart, I’m not complaining about you and I’m not upset with you. You have done amazing things with my son. Outside of God and family, Hippotherapy (and one particularly awesome physical therapist) is the single most effective force in Noah’s life and has been for as long as he has been participating. Y’all have hearts of absolute gold, and I wouldn’t trade you for a million dollars. I’m just a mom who writes the good, the bad and the difficult. Out of the hundreds of good, awesome, wonderful moments we’ve had at hippotherapy and even at the rodeos, this just happened to be a difficult one.
Noah’s Rodeo Round-Up was earlier this month. It’s the annual fundraiser for the hippotherapy facility, and the mission of the hippotherapy organization I take him to is to:
“empower individuals with disabilities through horses. At —-we strive to promote more inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities. Therefore, we are proud to host the third annual —— Rodeo Round-Up. This event provides an avenue in our community for riders with disabilities to participate alongside able-bodied riders in fun play day rodeo events. Last year almost 50 Riders of all abilities competed for beautiful ribbons and high point trophies with more than 500 in attendance.”
And before I go any further, I need to fess up. I’m a terrible sport. Really.
The day of the rodeo, which was open to riders with and without disabilities, as we were watching the various rounds of musical horses, I noticed that among the riders I’m used to seeing, the ones that have to be carried to their horses, the ones whose lives are profoundly effected by their special needs, one competitor’s horse stood head and shoulders (at least) above the rest. (Able-bodied riders often use their own horses to compete; the therapy horses are smaller due to the needs of the riders.). Not only that, but this girl was serious. The age group was 6 to 13, and I’ll assume by her size, posture and seriousness she was darn close to 13. To top it off, as she was getting into position in the arena someone walked onto the field to bring her a riding crop. Her jaw was set with the attitude of a fierce competitor.
The other horses each had three volunteers to guide the therapeutic horses through the game and to keep the rider with special needs safely positioned on the horse.
A riding crop, seriously?
It just seemed ludicrous to me.
A couple hours later, it was Noah’s turn to compete in a game where riders on horseback race to drop rings onto posts and then return to the starting line.
Guess who else was in his heat?
Ah, yes, the girl with the riding crop.
I warned you I’m a poor sport.
Can I be honest here?
My heart sunk within me. I saw that girl lining up with Noah, and I knew defeat was imminent. He was not like her. He so cannot compete with her, I thought, she’s going to leave him in the dust.
And I know this is the point in the story where the child with special needs steps up to the plate and wows the crowd and wins the race in spite of the obvious challenge. That would make for a good story, but that is SO not what happened. The girl was down and back with rings properly placed before anybody else in the heat had dropped their first ring. The despair I felt was completely out of proportion to the event, but boy did I feel it!!! And it was familiar, so familiar it hit me like a punch to the gut. This is where the out of proportion part comes in – it was familiar because it was the same feeling I had in the early days of Noah’s Down syndrome diagnosis. The days when I was consumed by the thoughts of how difficult life would be for Noah, the things that he would struggle with, all the ways Noah’s peers would pass him up, all the things he would never be the best at.
Like a punch to the gut.
So, you guessed it. No blue ribbons for Noah this year, but he did get a really pretty red one. And he loved it. And he got to ride. And spend another 30 minutes or so with his beloved Miss Laurie. So no doubt, Noah came out of this a happy winner; Noah’s Mommy had issues.
I spent way too much time wondering what in the world were they thinking, and who in the world would dare to feel victorious after winning a contest against MY son, my sweet little boy with serious cognitive disabilities?
A few weeks later I met a teenager who volunteers at the hippotherapy facility. She mentioned how much she looks forward to the Rodeo Roundup every year. She talked about how much she loved the way the kids with special needs get to compete right alongside the typical kids. She’s seen parents of kids with special needs baby them and not realize how much they are capable of, she said.
In hindsight, I realized a few things that have prevented me from being too upset at the way that rodeo was run and the mindset it represents.
First, while it is true the ring game on horseback did require speed and agility, not a strong area for most kids with special needs, it was Noah’s age and inexperience that slowed him down more than his Down syndrome. If he trained as hard and and for as many years as his older competitor did, perhaps he would have had a chance. He was at the bottom of the age division; she was probably closer to the top. Those dynamics would have been the same whether she had a disability or not.
Secondly, the game of musical horses was mostly a game of luck, so the girl’s age and ability really didn’t come into play. As a matter of fact, she was the first one out.
Next, this facility is a dream come true for the owner, and I will fight to the death for her right to run things any way she wants to, whether it winds up being of benefit to my son or not.
Lastly, if a group of Noah’s peers had a competition, let’s say a field day, and they decided he couldn’t participate because of his disability, I would find that offensive. So how can I be offended when it’s the other way around? From a logical standpoint, shouldn’t inclusion work both ways?
If you can’t ban my kid from activities based on his lower than average IQ and abilities, how can I ban your kids based on their average IQs and abilities?
This is the heart of what has been bothering me. I think that legislation and political correctness is going to wind up hurting our kids when it’s all said and done, because logic and equality are a poor substitute for human decency, insight and compassion.
To give kids with special needs an opportunity to play and ride alongside typical children is a noble cause, and don’t let me imply I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth here. (No pun intended.). I guess the truth is, though, that I’m really thrilled for the opportunities for Noah to be involved in any special needs only activities. Bring them on!
Special needs – just what does that mean?
Not many of us with a child with special needs would be offended to admit it.
My kid has special needs. Does he need special treatment?
Like the treatment they give him at AWANAS where he can say his verse using PECS and a matching board versus saying it outloud?
Like the treatment they give him in his Sunday School class where he gets the same rewards as the others do even though he can’t do the same work they do?
Like the treatment the congregation gives him at Church when nobody shoots us dirty looks when our kid is singing oh so loundly and completely out of tune and nobody can even understand what he’s singing?
Like the treatment they gave him at his hippotherapy rodeo where he had three assistants leading his horse when the typical kids didn’t have any?
Like the treatment he gets at the grocery store when he gets in the way, but people kindly smile instead of roll their eyes when they realize he’s a boy with a body a bit bigger than his awareness?
Like the patient treatment he got at his sister’s wedding a couple weeks ago when the photos were taking too long and he ran around to all the people waiting in the pews and shook each one of their hands, and then he did it again?
Like the special needs gymnastics class open only to kids with special needs where instead of just having an instructor working with 10 or so kids; we have one instructor, 2 assistants, one awesome physical therapist, 5 parents and me working with just 6 kids. Did I mention it’s free – seeing how so many of us are tapped out financially by all the medical and therapeutic intervention necessitated by our special kids.
Yes, you bet he needs special treatment!
Can I just say thanks to all the people who have gone all out to include Noah and make those opportunities available to Noah and other children like him? Thanks for giving my son with Down syndrome (and me) special treatment, not because you have to, but because you want to; not because we demand it (we don’t), but because you recognized a need and you responded to it.