How to Get Youth With Special Needs Into the Game

By Stephanie Davis Smith, September 17, 2015

The age-old Golden Rule is the foundation of The Golden Soldiers, a nonprofit organization Lindsey L. Turner founded in his spare time. “We’re spreading the idea of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ by hosting events for individuals with special needs and their families,” he explains.

Seven years after starting The Golden Soldiers, Turner quit his day job and launched a social enterprise called Special Needs Certified to go along with the nonprofit arm. The company educates businesses, cities, volunteers, parks and rec employees, and other sports organizations to better understand, engage with and serve people with special needs. In a few short months, multiple cities have become special needs-certified, and 23 states now have special needs-certified businesses through his program. Here are Turner’s seven tips for successfully incorporating the needs of these individuals at your next event:

Know your environment. Remove barriers or have alternative routes for people using wheelchairs or walkers to have access to all areas.

Participation is key. Think through ways for everyone to be able to participate in the sport. Have buddies who assist players with special needs, and know it’s OK and acceptable to ask what their abilities are ahead of time. Understanding the strengths of an athlete with special needs, as well as where they might need assistance, is extremely important.

Responsible Rx. Find out if any of your players take medication or have a condition you need to be aware of such as seizures, wandering, using a feeding tube, etc. Make sure to have accurate emergency contact information.

Safe and sound. If there are going to be loud noises or music playing at your event, inform your guests of this. You can also purchase a box of disposable earplugs to give out as needed.

Thoughtful F&B. Make sure you’re aware of your players’ food allergies. Offering gluten- and casein-free food items is a growing request among individuals and families with special needs. By offering these options, you will let your guests know you truly care about providing them with a great event and experience.

Use people-first language. Put the person before the disability. For example, instead of saying “a Down syndrome child,” you say “a child with Down syndrome.”

Be patient. When communicating with someone with special needs, he or she may fully understand what you are saying, but it might take a few seconds or more for a response to be formulated.

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