As our children get older, we remember the things we liked to do when we were their age. Things like football games, school plays, the student clubs we were in, and the times we spent with friends. After school activities have social and academic benefits while also building confidence and skills in all children, including those with disabilities. After school activities can help everyone in them work together, learn from each other, and build friendships.
Before Getting Started
- Consider your child’s interests and passions. Think about what makes their eyes light up, or what makes them smile or laugh. If your child isn’t sure where to begin, give them specific ideas and choices. This might be a process of trial and error, but it helps start the conversation, narrow the choices, and find the best possible activity.
- Consider your child’s strengths and challenges. Sometimes, a certain activity helps your child with areas they find challenging. For example, scouting organizations can offer great social support to children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. This article from MetroKids has suggestions for after school activities for children with specific diagnoses.
- Consider your child’s feelings about new things. Remind them that it’s okay to try something – even if they want to move on to another activity later. As adults, we learn a lot by taking chances and trying new things. Our children can grow from these same experiences.
Getting Started With After School Activities
- Start with seeing what types of clubs, sports, and organizations your school has to offer.
- Explore the different community and neighborhood activities that are available. Often the local YMCA, library, or faith-based organization has after school activities all children can join.
- Talk to other parents whose children participate in these activities.
- Check out national organizations that are accessible to children with disabilities like the Girl Scouts of the USA, 4-H club, and others.
Things to Keep in Mind
- If your child participates in a school-sponsored after school activity, it is important that you and the school district staff communicate and collaborate so that your child is supported – and set up for success. You know your child’s abilities better than anyone, and you might need to talk to the person in charge of the after school program to make sure they also know about your child’s abilities.
- It can create a better outcome for everyone if you help the activity leader understand your child’s unique strengths and challenges. You can explain a few things, like how your child reacts best to certain challenges or how their assistive technology works.
- Think about what kind of accommodations or modifications (like adaptive and assistive devices and technology could help your child participate in this activity or event. Programs run through your child’s school might be required to offer these things.
- Accommodations are not just for classroom learning. If you need help explaining this to the coach or activity leader, maybe a teacher who knows your child can come along. Working as a team can help your child succeed. Learn more about accommodations on the Section 504 page.
- Check with your child and make sure they understand the activity’s goals and how it works. In order to participate, your child might have to memorize things, follow certain rules, complete activities on time, and more. Consider asking for modifications, if needed. For example, a runner might be allowed to have visual aid cones on the track, or a drummer might use a more comfortable grip for their drumsticks.
- Your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) should include the appropriate aids and services they need to have an equal opportunity to take part in their activities.
- Not all after school activities are purely academic, but the other benefits of joining a program are likely to help your child get skills that can help them with their classes or grades too.
What Can I Expect?
After school activities are run by school districts and other organizations in the community. The programs that your child’s school runs must take steps so that your child has an equal opportunity to take part in these activities. After school activities outside of your child’s school (or run by other organizations on school grounds) – like scouting organizations, the YMCA, and others – usually can’t discriminate against people with disabilities either. It’s important to understand that they might not offer the same types of accommodations, modifications, and services as the public school district would.
If Your After School Activity Is Run by the School
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 require school districts to take the steps necessary to be sure children with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in after school activities run by the school. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), it must include the aids and services your child needs to take part in the activity. You can read more on our Section 504 page, and learn more about IDEA on our Your Child’s Right to a Public Education page.
If Your Child’s Activity Is Not Run by the School
Your child might be interested in joining a youth group, sports team, or another club that isn’t sponsored by or associated with the school district. Sometimes a nonprofit organization like the Boys & Girls Club has a program on school grounds, but the school does not run the program. When it comes to these activities, the rules about accommodations are different. Your child’s rights are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but not protected by IDEA or Section 504. The ADA says that public buildings, community organizations, and almost all other programs need to make accommodations and be accessible. Religious organizations are an exception – if they don’t get funding from the government, they don’t need to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you feel like your child’s needs aren’t being met, talk with the activity leader or someone from the program. If you still feel like your child is being discriminated against outside of school, you can write a complaint to the Department of Justice.
There’s no one-size-fits-all guideline to your child’s rights to an after school activity. You can learn more about your child’s rights at Disability Rights Texas.