The correct answer is yes. The child needs to learn that there are good and bad decisions, and that our decisions have consequences. Any other child would have learned the same lesson - they would have been reprimanded, given detention, suspended, what have you. The punishment for a disabled child should be no different. THAT'S dignity of risk.
A similar thought occurred to me today. I watched in horror as a video of a high school basketball player passing the ball to an intellectually disabled player ON THE OPPOSING TEAM went explosively viral, complete with the requisite "warm your heart" and "inspirational" comments. No one seemed to see anything wrong with it - except almost every disabled person I talked to.
I'm sure that player had good intentions. I'm sure he had GREAT intentions. He wanted to help someone score. But that's not how the game works, and to completely abandon the structure of the game just so a disabled player can have a chance to score smacks of ableism. It's condescending and asinine. It sends the message that the disabled player isn't a real player, worthy of competition. It says he's not worth seriously playing with. It says he deserves "special" treatment, separate and distinct from the other players on the team. If that athlete had passed the ball to a nondisabled member of the other team, he would have been a laughingstock. Why is it different when the receiver is disabled?
You know what that boy could've done, if he wanted to help? He could've treated the boy on the other just like any other opposing athlete - someone to be taken seriously, just like every other athlete on the opposing team. He could've even taken it a step further and offered to teach the boy some basketball techniques after the game. That would've demonstrated a quiet acceptance and respect. It wouldn't have been blaring from the headlines - and it shouldn't be. Acceptance - REAL acceptance, not tolerance - should not be noisy. It should happen naturally and without fanfare.
Kids with disabilities need to learn, as well, that sometimes they will lose. And there will be things they will not be able to do because of their disabilities. I will never be an Olympic figure skater - and that's okay. I don't want anyone "letting me" skate in the Olympics or giving me a gold medal I didn't earn. I can't skate, and that's okay. I have other things I'm good at - reading and writing and singing. I know where my strengths lie. So maybe basketball isn't that kid's strength. I'm positive that he has other areas where he shines. Cultivate strengths, not weaknesses. And if that kid really, really, really wants to play basketball, don't just let him play on a team because he wants to. Teach him how to shoot and dribble and pass. Have him practice until one day, he might actually be good enough to play competitively. Treat him like an equal, like a true member of the team.
The real world doesn't bend over backwards to cater to disabled people, and I would never want it to. People with disabilities, parents and professionals alike need to learn a new term now, a term that I'm inventing - dignity of loss. Just as you need to let people make their own mistakes, you also need to let them lose their own games. Let them fail. Teach them how to pick themselves up, and how to lose graciously. Let them realize that the world keeps turning, even if you didn't win, even if you didn't score that time. And finally, let them earn their own victories. Success is so much sweeter when it's earned, not given on a silver platter.