Don’t miss this. A front-page story in the Washington Post by Donna St. George introduces Destiny, a cheerleading squad composed entirely of girls who have disabilities.
The Gaithersburg, MD, team is part of a “quiet but growing grass-roots effort to create more activities outside of school for children with disabilities,” she writes. “Its successes have come one at a time, often driven by parents …” The need for such programs is great at a time when 5.5 million schoolchildren have disabilities and there are relatively few options for before- or after-school sports and recreation.
The experience has been transformative for the girls, aged 7 to 15, who have become more confident, more socially comfortable, more engaged, and more physically adept, their parents say. They have performed their routines at regional competitions under bright lights, before audiences of thousands.
Disabilities represented on the team include Down syndrome, autism, and other developmental delays.
The phenomenon has a social significance far beyond the girls of Destiny, said Allen Crocker, a Harvard University professor who has specialized in developmental disabilities for more than 50 years at Children’s Hospital Boston.
“This is a breakthrough,” Crocker said. “It is the antithesis of isolation. We all hope that our youngsters with special needs will be welcomed in activities that are part of our culture.”
Cheerleading, he noted, “is a particularly lively, joyful one” — and so at odds with the exclusion of the past, when many children with special needs spent idle hours at home.