Attending Sporting Events With Special Needs Kids

We’re coming up on some major types of events at the end of the year now, and we always think about the excitement of going to a baseball game, or a basketball game, or a football game—any type of large event. Those are fun and exciting! But even though we all love these events, think about whether or not you should take your kids to them.

Sometimes we assume our kids will love these events, just like we do! But we don’t live in their sensory body. We don’t experience the world the way they do. Our perspective is not their perspective. Today I want to mention a few things that might help you come into perspective with their perspective.

1. Long drives and walks.

When we go to a sporting event, this often involves a long drive. Often these events go late into the evening, or over nap schedules. If you think they’re going to be sleeping in the car, bring their favorite blanket and pillows. And often when we get to the event, there’s often a long walk from the car to wherever the event might be. Think about how your child might handle this.

2. Crowds and noise.

Once we get there are lots of people, there are crowds and lots of noise. Sometimes the noise is really loud, like when someone makes a touchdown or a home run, or shoots a triple-pointer from far away. This noise is a natural, cultural experience—but maybe not for our kiddos. Think about how your child might handle the noise.

3. Concession Stand Food.

The other thing people do at these events is eat concession stand food. This means we also have to think about the food issue. You have to ask yourself, will your child eat anything at the concession stand? Does the concession stand have anything that is within their nutritional repertoire and diet restrictions? You have to think ahead about all these things ahead of time, so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises at the event.

4. Take shifts.

When we go to these events, some people really focus on the event, while other people are there to socialize. We always tell parents to try doing shifts. That way, if Dad really wants to focus on the game, he has his time to focus and do that while you keep an eye on your kiddo to make sure all is well with them. Sometimes our kids have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the event. You’ll probably have to do a break where you walk around with them. Take turns!

5. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

If you pre-prepare for these things, maybe starting out with shorter events and then building to longer ones. If you start out with a six-hour event, you might be frustrated. We want them to enjoy these events, but we have to introduce them in a way that’s palatable to them.

We also always emphasize pre-training. Talk to your kiddo about the game beforehand. Tell them what’s exciting about it. Maybe get them a jersey that matches the team. Carry different fidgets, coloring books, toys, different things that they can do if they get bored during the event.

We’re not saying don’t go to these events! But we are saying that you want to consider all these things beforehand, so that when the event is over you don’t end up saying, “I am never going back to that event again!” Saying we’re never going again is often times that’s not the solution we want our kids to learn.

Also, talk to your therapist about going to these events. They know your kids’ sensory situation very well. They can probably give you some great ideas on what to do before, during and afterward! We want to you leave the event with a smile on your face, not a frown!

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