When Danielle Quintana brings her four children to Diane’s Kids Soccer Camp, it’s a chance for her to just sit back and relax. She knows the volunteers know how to care for her children, and she can watch them have fun.

Diane’s Kids Soccer Camp is for kids between the ages of 5 and 19 with intellectual or other disabilities and their siblings. It’s a weeklong camp in the summer that teaches soccer, motor skills and character development.

Quintana’s oldest, Giovanni, is 12 and has autism with a speech impediment. Leonardo is 10 and has ADHD with anxiety. Her 5-year-old, Sebastian, has cerebral palsy. Her daughter Sofia is 7 and does not have a disability, but comes to the camp with her siblings.

“I don’t have to worry about them picking on each other or degrading each other,” Quintana said. “This is just calming, for once, because you know how the world is ugly.” 

Diane Swanson, who runs the camp, said this is the fourth year for it and there are kids with a wide variety of disabilities the camp welcomes. This year, Swanson said around 25 people signed up for the camp.

“They’re not used to having that freedom to just enjoy,” Swanson said. “That’s a big part of camp. It’s just fun to be a kid.”

Swanson works as an occupational therapist, and she said she loves working with the children and coming out to run the camp.

During each day, the campers move through three different sessions. They do fine motor skills to work on soccer skills like dribbling the ball. There also is a craft session where they talk about a character trait for the day, such as respect or friendship. The last group is a social emotional group where they do some type of team activity.

On June 8, campers were doing a passing exercise in the social emotional group. The children were chanting the name of their teammates to encourage them during their turn of the activity.

Addressing a lack of resources

Swanson said camps like Diane’s Kids are not common, a sentiment shared by many parents there.

Angele Senter said she is always looking for special needs opportunities for her 15-year-old daughter, Destiny Sanchez, and wishes she’d learned about the camp sooner.

Senter said her daughter loves to dance and recently competed in her school’s special olympics and loves basketball. Destiny is open to trying new things, something Senter said comes from a rule in the family that she has to at least try something once, but it’s hard to find permanent programs for her.

Destiny has a rare chromosomal disorder called 18p deletion. Senter said she was diagnosed after she had to have multiple surgeries, including one to address a hole in her heart she was born with.

Programs like the soccer camp help her socialize, which Senter said her daughter struggles with. But she is an advocate for more permanent programming. 

“You Google search special needs stuff, and you look throughout different organizations, and most of them are temporary,” she said. “And it’s really hard; and it makes it really hard when you have kids that aren’t disabled, they’re taking part in all kinds of activities because there’s so much to offer. If you do have a disability, you’re so limited and really it’s hard to be able to find, you know, what their gift is in life because they’re not able to try a bunch of different things because it’s just not offered for them.”

Senter said she wishes more people in power took it seriously and prioritized disabled people so there are more offerings.

“You don’t want them to necessarily be in a class with the general population, because you don’t want to make them feel bad about themselves or being picked on,” she said. “But it just, it sucks.”

Growth over time

Molly King said she’s sent her son, Ethan, to camp for the last three years. She said her son has a genetic mutation on chromosome 12, so he has a mild intellectual disability, low muscle tone and was born with clubbed feet.    

Over his time at the camp, she’s seen significant changes in Ethan. She said she never thought he’d get a chance to do team sports, but this camp gives him that chance.

The volunteers all know how to interact with the students, which King appreciates. She said she’s noticed significant improvement in his gross motor skills.

“I didn’t think he was ever going to be a runner,” King said. “I didn’t think he was ever going to be able to jump with both feet but he’s very slowly matured and just gotten better and better every year.”

Ethan’s brother is active in sports, and his room has several medals. King said because of the camp, Ethan now has medals to put in his room too.

Quintana’s son Giovanni has attended the camp for four years, and over that time she said she’s seen a lot of growth in him. 

He used to hate being outside and didn’t have a large range of motion. Now, she said he loves being on the soccer field and his motor skills are improved and he can kick the ball now.

“He’s running around. He’s smiling. He’s usually mad at the world right about now,” Quintana said. “He used to put himself down a lot, but he’s out there doing what they can do.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.  

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