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The surprising sport your special needs child should try

Bowling offers many benefits and accommodations for special needs kids
Bowling offers many benefits and accommodations for special needs kids

Team sports offer lots of benefits, from learning teamwork and social opportunities to the obvious exercise component. However, many special needs kids are unable or unwilling to participate in traditional team sports. Adapted sports leagues are one alternative, like the Champions Division of West Hills Little League, but there are individual sports and some other ways to go. Aceing Autism brings tennis to kids on the spectrum, helping with focus and getting those bodies moving. Archery is another great focus-booster and is growing in popularity since The Hunger Games and Brave.

Bowling is also a great option. Think about the variety of skills involved; physical, psychological and social. During games players must wait their turn and remind distracted bowlers of when they are up. Working on approach and form will build strength, aiming improves hand-eye coordination and deciding on a strategy to finish off the frame involves working with angles and predicting an outcome. Players often congratulate each other on good shots and practice lane etiquette and good sportsmanship.

Bowling is a year-round sport, and the weather isn't an obstacle to participants or supportive family members. In other words, you won’t need a stadium blanket or sunscreen. Bowling is also a great way to get out some of the aggression that challenges some special needs kids in a safe way. Pre-teens and teens with large, strong bodies need a way to channel all that energy. Flinging a heavy object and hearing the resulting thunderous crash can be very satisfying. It’s also a great way to build confidence and self-esteem outside of academics. Tournaments and scholarships are also a perk!

One of my typical children is on a youth league, and in addition to some special needs kids who are on teams there is also a league for adults with special needs. It is obvious these grown-ups enjoy their time on the lanes, and many of them are amazing bowlers! Clearly they have found a life-long sport and forged friendships.

But don’t just take my word for it. Angel Zobel-Rodriguez is the Youth League Coordinator at Corbin Bowl in Canoga Park. She says that bowling is a great sport for kids with special needs because it involves more parallel play than most sports, which involve more team work. “Bowlers of various abilities can be paired up and throw the ball and be part of a team. Bowling is also great because it has less physical demands and has more accommodations than many other sports.” Accommodations include bumpers that keep the ball out of the gutter and ramps for kids who might have trouble with swinging a ball. There's even a ball with a retractable handle! Angel’s league has kids who stand at the line and set up and throw the ball, other kids who use two hands to throw or roll the ball, and also more advanced kids who have a 4- or 5-step delivery with one hand. Bowling allows kids to participate on teams as small as 2 per team all the way up to 4 or 5 person teams.

Check your local bowling alley for youth leagues and talk to the coaches about your child’s challenges. There may not be a special needs kids league (and maybe you should start one!) but chances are your child can be accommodated and welcomed in a typical league. In fact, your child will probably not be the only one there with special needs.