Monday, August 3, 2015

Kawartha Komets,,,Much More Than Just Hockey

The following article was written by David Fisher with input from one of the Kawartha Komets parents and was published in the Peterborough Sports Express magazine.

Much has been written about the Kawartha Komets Special Needs Hockey Program. We have just completed our sixth season of play and 50 of our 60 players, their families and our coaches just returned from their Special Hockey International Tournament in Ottawa. Over $30,000 was raised in six months to cover tournament costs so that as many players as possible could enjoy the "tournament experience" at minimal personal cost

But there's much more to launching and operating a special needs hockey program than what you see on the ice. One of our Kawartha Komets' parents has captured the essence of our program, and I feel that her insights need to be widely shared.

"As a starting point, when kids and individuals do not have special needs they face significantly lower barriers in participating in "the community" - everything from school, to friendships, sports, art, music and drama. They have a greater sense of accomplishment and success which leads to greater self-esteem and more resilience. Many kids with disabilities have not experienced those successes but rather have experienced repeated failures. They often have few friendships, if any. I believe individuals with "invisible disabilities", such those on the Autism Spectrum and those with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) have greater failures. If you have a visible disability, people "adjust" their expectations quickly.  They have a way of understanding that individual. If your disability is invisible (this includes mental health challenges, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders) people don't have a way to easily or as quickly understand that individual.

What makes it more challenging for invisible disabilities and for mental health challenges is that neurological issues and mental health issues are often manifested in challenging behaviours. Many kids are often described as having a "cloak of competence". People see them as more competent than they really are, hence higher expectations are placed on them, which often results in a failure to meet those expectations. Even those individuals with "normal IQ" often have significant functional disabilities.  These functional disabilities make navigating the complexities of life very challenging - everything from interpreting social cues to understanding money and time.

Family members and caregivers frequently try to help others understand their kids and their needs. Parents feel intense sadness when their kids struggle. We grieve over and over again for "what could have been".  Gaining more acceptance is the thinking that not only do parents grieve, but so do our children. Depending on their level of awareness, that grief can be profound, and for some kids, that can translate into depression. Many live with severe anxiety and depression every day.  

For many of the families and players that come to the Kawartha Komets, it is much more than coming to play hockey. It is about coming to a place of acceptance, support, and understanding, a place where there might, hopefully, be friendships forged, and place where there is more tolerance for differences and less judgment of challenging behaviours. Hopefully it is a place to have fun and do something that they can take away and talk about with pride and a positive sense of accomplishment

When I go the rink on Saturdays I try to meet and have a real conversation with other parents and caregivers. I'm always amazed at the struggles they've had to deal with that week. For some, the situations they face every week just to navigate "life" are greater than the challenges other non-special-needs individuals face over years. Some parents have stated that if they had to get up every morning and face the world through their special needs child's abilities they would not get out of bed.  

Our son has never gotten up on a Saturday morning and not wanted to go and play hockey! It was different on other sports teams. His teammates did not have special needs. Each year we see less and less "acceptance" of our son on those teams; his disability is becoming more noticeable and his isolation from teammates greater.  This is the opposite of what happens when he arrives in the Komets dressing room!"

The Kawartha Komets "get it" and are blazing a trail to increased understanding of the unique needs of these incredible athletes.  


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