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Your Child Can Be a Sports Superstar with These 10 Inclusion Tips

This is a post by Joan de la Paz, a member of Autism Speaks’ Autism Response Team. He has a background in Behavioral Therapy and is also a former coach, with over 18 years of experience in Martial Arts. Joan has a passion for teaching and has had the opportunity to empower many students with diverse abilities.  

Now that the summer is fast approaching, many parents are talking about finding extracurricular activities for their children. For many people, this can be easier said than done!

While it is well known that enrolling your child in a sport can have tremendous benefits, it can be tough to find the best and most appropriate ones. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work in many different sports settings and teach children of all ages, many of them with disabilities. During my time as a coach, many parents would ask me, “Which sport is better for my child?” The response I always gave them is that “It depends.”

Every child is unique. They have distinctive interests, strengths, and challenges and parents are encouraged to explore these traits with their child. Since choosing a great extracurricular activity can sometimes be an overwhelming task, I have put together 10 great tips that can help your child with autism succeed in a sports program.

1. Let Your Child Take the Lead

As a parent, one only wants what is best for their child. However, it is essential to consider your child’s interests, abilities and strengths. Whenever possible, talk about the different sports programs that are available and include your child in the decision-making process. This may help reduce anxiety about trying something new, it can promote independence and build self- confidence.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Think about what a sports program can offer and how it can benefit your child with autism. Whether you are looking to build your child’s social skills, or increase self-esteem, share your expectations and goals with him and other family members. For your child to be able to grow in the program, it is important to set goals that are realistic and within reach. In this way, you are setting your child up for success!

3. Communication is Key

When researching information about programs, communicate with the instructors or coaches. Be upfront with them from the start and let them know about your child’s strengths and challenges. Inform them about what works and what doesn’t and see if they are a good fit for your child.

4. Try It Out

Communicate with your child about trying out the program. Since many children with autism can have a tough time with transitioning, they may become anxious or nervous about going somewhere or doing something. It may help to let the child know what he will be doing to prepare him for any changes that can occur. Many parents and teachers use a visual schedule in the form of pictures, to outline their daily activities. It may also be helpful to ask the coach or instructor if the program offers a trial period or class. If you’re unsure, talk it over with your child and family. Don’t feel pressured to enroll right away. Check out Autism Speaks' Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorder tool kit here.

5. Chat With Other Parents

Word of mouth is one of the best tools at your disposal. Talking with the other parents is a great way to really get to know what the program is about. Asking them about their experiences can provide you with a lot of great information. My Autism Team is a great resource for connecting with other parents.

6. Class Size Matters

When trying out the program, whether it’s a class or a team, consider the student-teacher ratio. Having only one instructor for a big group can make it difficult to provide individualized attention. Unless the program encourages parent participation, it is beneficial to have assistant instructors present, to help manage the class/practice.

7. Safety First

If the sport requires use of any equipment, examine if it is safe and in good repair. Also, consider the facilities and check to see if they are clean and hygienic. Communicate any medical conditions or allergies to the instructors beforehand and keep a first aid kit with you.

8. Be Flexible

Understand that at first, your child may not be able to do everything the other children can do. Working on too many points of detail at once, or spending too much time on a task, may be overwhelming and cause frustration. Talk to the coach/instructor and see if skills and activities can broken-down into smaller, more manageable sections, so your child can feel successful each time. If you see your child become frustrated or fatigued, have the coach allow for a short break and go with the child’s pace.

9. Go the Extra Mile

Whenever possible, help your child with autism raise his skill level by practicing at home. Keep it fun and stress free. In the beginning, it may also help to arrange a private lesson or two with the coach. The will provide him with individualized attention and prepare him to be in a group setting.

10Be Patient and Stay Positive!

If initially it seems like your child is not progressing as much, keep at it and use lots of encouragement. Everyone, including adults like being recognized for doing something well. Therefore, use lots of praise and high fives! Even if your child has not fully mastered the skill, reward the effort.

Leading the Way: Autism Friendly Youth Organizations is a guide from Autism Speaks for organizations to ensure that youth with autism have the same formative experiences through community programs that are available to their typical peers. The purpose of this guide is to better prepare community organizations to serve youth and families with autism.

If you are looking for a great extracurricular activity for your child, search our online Resource Guide or contact our Autism Response Team (ART) at 888-288-4762 or by email at familyservices@autismspeaks.org The ART team is there to help answer any questions and link families to local resources in the community.  

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.