My family started attending the University of Delaware’s Adapted Sports Club nine years ago because, while both of my sons have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), my older son was also diagnosed with Asperger’s markers. [Asperger’s syndrome is now defined as autism spectrum disorder.] The markers centered on social and repetitive behaviors.
I wasn’t sure how sports club would help my sons past teaching them sports skills (although those skills alone would have been worth it), but my kids have benefited tremendously. The first, most important way was improved social skills. Every week, the kids work with a college student—plus other students in cooperative games—so my sons are learning how to talk to their peers, differently-abled peers, and mentors. In the cooperative games, my kids learn how to cooperate by passing a basketball, even when they have a chance to make the point, as well as how to be gracious winners and losers.
As my sons have gotten older, the challenges have gotten more complex, so they’re learning how to set goals and, once they’ve been met, to set new goals. My older son struggled with his free throw for the longest time. Once he learned this, he learned how to throw and catch a football. Now, he’s learning how to dribble in field hockey.
My sons have also gained leadership skills. In the nine years we’ve been in the program, my kids have grown from little kids into some of the biggest kids there. Now, they question why they still have to go to sports club! But I know that interacting with smaller kids will benefit my sons just as much as it will the smaller kids. For example, the college students helped educate my sons when they were younger on when to talk, when to control the impulse to interrupt, and what is appropriate to talk about. Now that my sons are on the other end of this interaction, it’s teaching them patience, an essential quality in a leader or mentor.
My older son started kindergarten with a pretty intense individualized education program (IEP); now in ninth grade, he is taking honors classes. One of the factors in his success is UD’s Adapted Sports Club led by Iva Obrusnikova, PhD, MSc, MEd—and I’m so glad both of my kids have had this opportunity.
Sun contributor Kate Cottle is the parent of two sons with disabilities.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the January–March 2016 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.