Have you considered enrolling your child with visual impairments in a sports program? Are you considering a program that is inclusive or designed specifically for only with “special needs”? We chose Miracle League Baseball for our daughter who is blind and I’m so happy we did!
When my daughter Madilyn, who has been completely blind since birth, was six years old, some friends told us about a special program called “Miracle League Baseball.” It was founded specifically for children with disabilities and did not exclude anyone. Being avid sports lovers, my husband and I were excited to hear about such a great resource so close to home.
However, we still had our doubts about how, or if, they would be able to handle Madilyn with her multiple challenges and difficulties. On top of blindness, she also struggled with mobility and balance, as well as severe sensory challenges. They all seemed to overwhelm her in unfamiliar places and around strangers. We wondered how much she’d actually get out of the activity. Would it be one more thing we would add to the “try again in the future” list? Or might she surprise us and she really like it? We were skeptical but we were up for trying anything to help Madilyn break out of her shell. That was the day we signed our blind daughter up for baseball!
Our First Season with Miracle League
The Miracle League of Arkansas had two seasons per year- one in the spring and one in the fall- each lasting from 6-8 weeks with a game every Saturday. We tried to hype it up a lot and describe all that we could so she’d have some idea of what to expect. Prepping her by telling her about the different sounds, new people, and most importantly, a step-by-step run through of what she’d be doing, really helped Madilyn become more comfortable with handling new experiences. We expressed how much fun it would be for her to meet her coach and have teammates, and an audience in the bleachers cheering her on!
She would also have a buddy to be with her throughout the entire game every step of the way. The buddies were often volunteers from local businesses or schools, but not usually trained to work with kids with special needs- one part I was really nervous about.
The First Game
Madilyn’s very first game was scheduled early one Saturday morning, which was her best time of the day IF she got a good night’s sleep. We did all we could to try to ensure that happened, and I said a little extra prayer as I fell asleep that night. Madilyn woke up rested and in a good mood Saturday, but given the choice, she wouldn’t have gone to the game. We contemplated not making her go, but decided to just try it and see what happened.
Explaining Who Madilyn Is… to a Stranger
At the field, I found it was pretty difficult to ‘explain’ Madilyn to a complete stranger. There was no predicting how she’d behave and it would have taken quite a bit of time to give a complete rundown on all the possibilities. We briefed the young woman chosen to be Madilyn’s buddy on her blindness, walking and balance difficulties, and deafness in the right ear. We told her to explain everything that was going on around them and be very descriptive. The woman seemed to be mostly comfortable with what we were saying. She may have been a little overwhelmed, but overall confident, as she led Madilyn into the dugout for the start of the game.
We watched Madilyn closely from the stands to check for her usual behaviors signaling a meltdown was about to happen. She might put her shoulder up to her ear to block noise, curl up and slink to the ground in a little ball, cry or even yell, but so far so good as Madilyn swung the bat and knocked the ball off the tee, then walked the bases hand-in-hand with her buddy. A few at-bats later, she came across home plate and we all cheered, but Madilyn dug her head into the side of the woman, wrapping her arms around her searching for comfort. But she was okay!
Madilyn and Jacob at batting practice in the backyard
Meltdown in the Outfield
Then it was time for her to go out into the field… Madilyn clung to the side of her buddy and refused to walk, gritting her teeth and covering her left ear. A meltdown was on the way. I jumped up to go check on her, half-worried and half-frustrated that it couldn’t just work out happily. For whatever reason, she just didn’t want to go the field. Maybe it was the unknown, maybe she was just tired and had enough. After some attempts of easing her mind, tears began to run down her pink cheeks and Madilyn won the debate, sitting in the shade of the dugout for the remainder of the game.
Everyone was understanding and wanted to make her comfortable, but it was hard to explain that we didn’t really know how to make that happen in an instant. The tears eventually stopped, however the first game was pretty rough on all of us. I wanted so much for her to just have fun and it saddened me to see her struggle with an activity so many other kids enjoyed freely. We celebrated the small win that she did bat and round the bases, and that was definitely something, but I was unsure if we’d be back.
Madilyn ended up attending many of the games throughout the rest of the season, only missing one game when the entire morning was just bad and we couldn’t gather the strength to do it. (I felt guilty for it, but I’ve finally learned to forgive myself for those days when we just needed a break.) Some days at the ballpark were better than the first, and some worse. One game she didn’t cry at all, and many of them she actually went into the outfield. I continued to struggle with my own frustrations. Each week I spoke with the buddies about Madilyn, trying to explain how to help her do her best, but it seemed they mostly just wanted to make everything easy for her.
On the last day of the season, the entire team received trophies and team pictures. It actually seemed “normal” for me as a parent, when I thought back to my own days of softball. But it was still different for Madilyn. She wasn’t impressed or excited by trophy day, but we still tried to describe the intended emotions of being proud of herself, being a good teammate, and more.
Her Baseball Career Continues
Madilyn played several more seasons of Miracle League in Arkansas, and continues to play in the Massachusetts Miracle League since we moved. Over time, Madilyn has become comfortable with the experience each week, looking forward to the next season on trophy day. She loves the cheers of the audience, socializing with her teammates, and meeting new buddies. She also uses a beep baseball on a tee, and follows an audible signal around the bases. Every game isn’t perfect, but she has come a long way since that first game.
I’m proud of all of us for being brave enough to keep with it, and thankful for the Miracle League organization. The experience has certainly changed our lives for the better.