When Andrea Kane wanted to get her sons involved in sport, she faced an uphill battle. But, as MONIQUE PATTERSON reports, her boys have discovered the importance of participation thanks to a Warrnambool-based program.
THE change Warrnambool’s Andrea Kane has witnessed in her sons since they have been taking part in the Young Sports Good Sports program is nothing short of remarkable.
Kane was keen to get Hayden, 10, and Ethan, 8, involved in some form of sport to improve their social interaction skills.
However, she had a few false starts as Hayden has Asperger’s syndrome and Ethan is autistic.
“We were looking for a sport for Ethan but I was finding it really disillusioning because I would have to support him,” Kane said.
“All the other kids were by themselves and Ethan would be trying to be a normal kid and interact but here’s Mum standing behind him helping him, which wasn’t ideal and it was also frustrating for me.”
Kane said Hayden and Ethan tried gymnastics and swimming, but “things didn’t go as planned”.
“They still needed somebody there to keep them focused and we also had quite a few negative remarks about behaviour,” she said.
But then Kane heard about the Young Sports Good Sports program, which was funded by the Department of Planning and Community.
South West Sport program manager Judi Mutsaers said the aim of the two-year program was to support children with Asperger’s or autism who wanted to get involved in a team sport.
“Social interaction for kids with autism or Asperger’s can be difficult, so we thought if kids could start early, learn some skills around a sport that’s really popular in the playground, that’s a way children might be a bit more confident and able to interact with kids in that setting as well,” Mutsaers said.
“One of the things we wanted to do as far as the project goes was raise awareness within clubs of some of the aspects of autism and Asperger’s that can affect the way a child interacts with other children and the way they participate. Some of the behaviours may be misinterpreted as the child being a naughty kid, so we just wanted to raise awareness with clubs and other parents so there could be a bit more understanding.”
Hayden and Ethan joined the Aussie Hoops basketball program and were supported by South West Sport staff.
“We also gave the co-ordinators some tips on how to include a child who has autism or Asperger’s and that’s about structure and being prepared and being flexible in what you’re asking them to do,” Mutsaers said.
“It’s also about understanding that they may or may not participate in everything and sometimes they may need a bit of time out.”
At first the boys were not totally engaged in the game.
But, little by little, they learnt the rules and the importance of participating.
“The difference is huge. Initially Ethan was spending more time hugging the floor because he quite liked the feel of the floor, but now he knows that that’s not the place to be and he knows you have to pass the ball on and try to get a hoop,” Kane said.
He even gives a victory fist pump when he scores a goal.
Kane said Hayden’s interaction skills had also improved.
“With Hayden it has been really good because he has learnt to play games. He used to say ‘they don’t want to play with me’ but what he really meant was ‘they’re not doing what I want them to’ and now he knows that with basketball there are rules and it’s not that they’re not playing with him,” she said.
Kane said the boys were also keen to get involved in Auskick and Ethan would return to basketball.
Hayden’s twin sister Starsha, who is developmentally delayed, is keen to take up basketball with Ethan.
Kane said parents who had any concerns about involving their child with Asperger’s or autism in a sport should check out the program.
“You need to lay your concerns away because they’re your concerns and it’s so important for your kids to be able to play with other kids,” she said.
She said it was also a good opportunity for other children to be made aware of how to respond to children with autism or Asperger’s.
“It’s important they learn that just because somebody is behaving differently, it doesn’t mean that we should avoid them,” she said.
Hayden, Starsha, Ethan and their younger sister Tahlia, 5, now play with the children in their neighbourhood on a more regular basis.
Mutsaers said the program had been a huge success, with 12 children playing football, five playing basketball and four playing netball.
She said while the program officially finished in December, there was still some funding available to support other children who wanted to take part.
For information about the program, contact Mutsaers at South West Sport on 5561 1689.