A new project looks to raise autism awareness in sport – Autism in Practice – September 2014

In the second feature of four for the September 2014 issue of Autism in Practice, I looked into the creation of Active for autism. As an initiative from The National Autistic Society, it is looking to work with sports coaches in Great Britain to build a greater awareness of autism in young people who may be looking to stay active.

The National Autistic Society is looking to work with sports coaches in a bid to include more people with autism in sport across the UK from January 2015.

With support from The Peter Harrison Foundation, a charity developed to assist disabled people who may struggle to find opportunities that can help them to move forward in life, the Sylvia Adams Trust, the Weinstock Fund and HiT Entertainment, Active for autism will attempt to make sporting activities enjoyable where they may currently be daunting.Through working with Ask autism, a National Autistic Society training service developed and delivered by people with autism, Active for autism will consist of training modules that look to increase “the confidence and skills of sports practitioners”, “the levels of participation of people with autism in sport” and “the self-esteem and wellbeing of people with autism through their participation in sport”.

How the project will work

Active for autism has been designed to support people with autism by making sporting activities autism-friendly. The project is looking to create supportive environments that will promote inclusiveness for anybody with autism who wants to play sport, regardless of any difficulties they face.

Finding confidence and self-esteem is a barrier that can hold people with autism back from participation. Amy Webster, Active for autism’s Coordinator, believes bad experiences make the idea of playing daunting:

“For many people with autism, their first experiences of sport are tainted by bullying and confusion. In the absence of targeted support, they miss out on opportunities to grow and shine.

“Sadly, taking part in sports can be a terrifying experience. People with autism can become completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and unwritten rules of team play. Due to difficulties with communication, they may be baffled by the coaches’ instructions and encouragement. Many people with autism find themselves alienated and confused before any game has even begun.”

Through a combination of theory and practical work, coaches will be able to find out more about autism as a disability and have a chance to develop specialist lesson planning for coaching. Input will be offered throughout the project from people with autism who can share personal experiences.

The project’s aim

By asking people with autism about experiences where autism-friendly coaches have been involved, it became clear to Amy how extra support could be beneficial in making sport enjoyable.

Comments received included:

“My coach knows how to motivate me. He has helped to guide me through life as well as in my sport.”

“I like that there is somebody ‘in charge’, meaning that I don’t have to socialise in order to play.”

“A coach can educate and motivate you and take you beyond your perceived limitations. A coach can help with self-confidence.”

In understanding how powerful a little support and understanding can be, the aim of Active for autism in Amy’s opinion is to “equip sports coaches with the confidence and competence to deliver quality sessions” to anybody with autism who has a desire to play sport.

On the long-lasting effect this may have, Amy hopes: “This will, in turn, ensure participants have more opportunities to enjoy sport in a safe environment with the knowledge their instructor has an understanding of how to assist them in the learning of new skills and experiences.

“It is hoped by developing the knowledge and expertise of coaches, people with autism will deem the sessions to be more approachable.

“The partnership with Ask autism means the online module has been written by people with autism. This will benefit the project greatly but will also be a valuable addition to the existing catalogue of Ask autism training modules.”

Conclusion

Amy believes that Active for autism is as important for coaches as it will be for people with autism. She believes there will be a mutual benefit for anybody who becomes involved with the project:

“I believe as coaches we are always learning from our experiences and from the people we work with and deliver to. I think it’s important for coaches to get to know their participants as individuals, finding out what their interests are and how they learn.”