Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Athletics and Teens with Learning Disabilities

Parents of teens with learning disabilities get beat up pretty good. It is hard enough coping with a teen who isn't processing information the way most people do. These kids may take longer to process a direct command, or stumble on an obvious double entendre, or just inadvertently mess up some simple request. And it is maddening because the behavior may never change.

But it is doubly brutal for teens who have such disabilities and who are athletes. As a group athletes are often not the brightest and the best in a school to begin with so athletes with disabilities have a tendency to blend into categories that may peg them as not very intelligent instead of challenged to respond to certain kinds of directives.

Coaches don't receive guidance in handling these students and as a result these students who may be fine athletes never are given opportunities to shine because learning disabilities can be misinterpreted as insubordinate behaviors or refusal to jump through the procedural hoops.

For parents, this presents the gut-wretching decision to attempt explaining the nature of the disorder to a coach who may then either exacerbate the social discomfort of the situation for the teen or eliminate the teen from further consideration because the disability merely reinforces the stereotype that the teen will not perform up to expectations.

The fans only see coaches yelling at seemingly deaf and inattentive athletes. But in too many cases, the athletes cannot process the information such as it is. And worse still, athletes perfectly capable of learning what's required often fall victim to demeaning coaches who use them as scapegoats for their practice examples opening further humiliations from their peers.

Someday guidance counseling will involve athletic departments. Until then, the indifference of wins, losses and high school politics will keep these kids tied to a whipping post.

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