By Veronica Smith and Stephanie Patterson – adapted from their new book, Getting into the Game: Sports Programs for Kids with Autism.

We interviewed many parents and coaches while collecting information for this book and we became firm believers: participation in sports is great for kids with ASD! Not only is it great for the kids but there are countless benefits for the families (parents and siblings alike) that participate alongside them. Additionally, we learned that it is also beneficial to the coaches and volunteers who make it happen.

Below we summarize what we learned.

From the book: An example of an individualized "primary" story that can help a child to understand what will occur at soccer (football) practice.

Children with ASD can learn new sport-related skills. We learned that finding a good sport program and quality coaching helped many young people with ASD acquire sports skills across a range of activities. They also developed critical lifetime leisure skills that included an appreciation for continued participation in recreational pursuits.

Children and families feel part of their community. Overwhelmingly, we learned that families of kids with ASD who found an appropriate recreational activity for their child felt part of a broader community that was inclusive and supportive on many levels.

Therapy goals of communication, socialization, and independence are realized on the field (or in the pool, on the skating rink, in the tennis court, etc.). Families described “breakthroughs” in goals that had been worked on in therapy across several domains – but especially communication, socialization, and independence. From simple activities of listening to a coach, making eye contact, choosing a partner for a drill – the children progressed in areas that would extend to other areas of their life. We were struck with how many happy faces we saw on the soccer field and tennis courts – these new skills were being learned in an atmosphere of fun and playfulness – a delight to see!

Opportunities for independence are expanded. Learning how to move your body in a new environment leads to all kinds of opportunities for independence – exactly what parents want for their children. New understanding of your own body’s physical abilities to balance, coordinate a new move, or speed up or slow down is the ultimate act of independence. Learning new sports skills is replete with these opportunities.

More people in your community know about ASD. What was really fascinating about the fabulous coaches that we interviewed was how well known they were by the autism community and the community at large. By being an example of how to include individuals with ASD they had done a lot to make ASD more visible and understandable to the whole community. Also, by getting out and participating, more children with ASD demonstrate that they can be athletes despite some unique learning needs which expands how the community

Check out Getting into the Game to discover how you can you can help get kids with autism engaged in fun and positive sport environments!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

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