As each of you probably know by now, I am a huge supporter and advocate for inclusion — in school, in church, in the community. Therefore, you might be surprised to know that Chloe is participating this year in a cheerleading program specially designed for children with disabilities.

Let me explain my decision.

Last year, I signed Chloe up for a cheer team — just a regular ol’ community cheer team. It was important to me for her to be involved and included in a cheer team open to all kids. I didn’t give the organization a heads-up of Chloe’s disabilities or anything; we just showed up on day one and expected to be able to participate. While we got some surprised looks and weirded out a few girls by Chloe’s not respecting their personal bubbles, she was mostly accepted and participated quite well.

She loved the dance moves and the routine that the team worked on. I was amazed at how well her little body kept up with the other girls. Oftentimes she was either a couple beats behind or stopping for a few beats in anticipation of a couple beats’ moves that she did right on cue with the team. I was impressed. Yes, she stuck out a tad, but she kept up and did well.

Well, there was that one night when the girls were stretching at the beginning of class and Chloe climbed up on top of another little girl who was doing a straddle stretch, squishing the little girl right into the floor on her nose while the little girl just let her body fold tightly in half and remained silent under Chloe’s weight … yeah, that …

… oh, and that one night that Chloe invaded one girl’s space and that girl scooted over into another girl’s space who scooted into another girl’s space until that whole line of little cheerleaders was bunched over on the side like a little football huddle …

yeah, we had a few hiccups …

… but it was mostly successful. And Chloe was cheering with typical kids … and those kids were learning what it means to include others.

Well, over the course of the past year or so I have been researching/reading about different adults with disabilities and their personal opinions on sports and inclusion. I was surprised to learn that some adults with disabilities preferred segregated sports; not everyone wanted to participate with the able-bodied kids. Yes, some of them preferred integrated sports programs, but some did not. The constant factor that I found true of all the adults with disabilities that I read about: they each felt very strongly one way or the other about their opinion on sports!

Learning about this difference in opinion, I really wondered what was best for Chloe and mostly wondered how Chloe felt about participating in sports. Would she prefer to be teamed with like-abled kids? Or would she prefer to be teamed with kids who had no disability label?

I decided that since Chloe is 11 (she was actually 10 at the time), that she is old enough to have an opinion about it. And I wanted to honor that opinion. The problem was, Chloe didn’t have experience with being on a team designed especially for kids with disabilities.

So I made a plan to introduce her to both kinds of sports — segregated vs. integrated sports. And we are following that plan to introduce both types of sports programs to Chloe and then to let her choose.

Please know that I go back and forth on this issue in my head and in my heart since I feel so very strongly about inclusion. Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion! But the truth is, that another thing that is important to me when it comes to individuals with a disability, is the right to choose. The right to an opinion, to speak that opinion, and to have it respected. The right to self-determination. “This is what I want for me!” “Listen to me!” type of right. It’s important for all people with disabilities; and it’s important for Chloe.

So I signed Chloe up for a cheer team for children with disabilities. Each cheerleader has a staffer assigned to them to guide them and support them when needed. Chloe’s staffer is about 6 months older than she is — so she’s a peer — and is on the competitive cheer team at the same gym. These girls stay after their team’s practice and run through the routine with Chloe’s cheer team.

So Chloe is being introduced to this type of sports program. On the mat are some children with disabilities and more than half (the staffers who have volunteered to be a part of this team, too) of the children do not have disabilities.

I plan to sign Chloe up for another regular ol’ community cheer group this fall and then let her choose her preference once she sees the differences in the two programs. I have a feeling my little stubborn one will have a definite opinion one way or the other. And I will strive not to persuade her or influence her decision. I truly want it to be her decision and her choice. I want it to be an act of Self-Determination.

All I know right now is my girl loves to cheer!!!!

So stay tuned!

(While I hesitate to even voice my opinion on the matter since I’m trying to leave it up to her, stay tuned to read my pros and cons of the 2 cheer programs we’ve experienced thus far….)

photo credit:

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Melissa Coco on March 25, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    You are such a great mom…


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