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Autism and Sports: Making this Sports Season a Successful One

Autism and sports

Playing extracurricular sports is a great experience for any child, but what do you do when your child has Autism and wants to play a sport? You let them is what you do! You must prepare in many ways for it though. Both with your child, your child’s doctor and with the organization your child wants to play in; whether that be baseball, basketball, track, football, etc. Always make the adequate preparations before signing your child up.


First step

The first step should be talking to your child in depth about the sport they have chosen. Make sure they understand what it is and what is entailed in said sport. Some sports are particularly hard for Autistic individuals, such as soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and hockey. These sports are particularly hard for a few reasons.

Reasons Certain Sports are Harder for Autistic Children:

Playing these team sports requires advanced social communication skills. Autism is a disorder in which those skills are compromised. So, it can be tough for autistic kids to “fit into a team, communicate well with team members, or predict what another team member is likely to do.”

These sports are often played in environments that are very hot, cold, loud, or bright. Most children with Autism have sensory challenges that make loud noise, bright lights, and temperature extremes difficult to handle.

Team sports that require puck handling also require a high level of strength and coordination. Autism often goes along with lowered muscle tone and problems with coordination.

Per VeryWell Health, not all sports are out though. There are many sports that are Autism friendly, such as Swimming, Track and Field and Bowling.

Swimming is a wonderful sport for most people, including children with autism. Kids who have a tough time with “ball-handling skills” can do well with basic strokes and typical water play.

Bowling. Even though it's loud, bowling seems to be a natural sport for many kids with autism. Perhaps it's the repetition or maybe it's the satisfaction of seeing the pins come crashing down. Bowling leagues are often welcoming and can be a good opportunity to become part of a sports organization.

Track and Field. For kids with autism, track and field may be a terrific outlet. Track events require fewer communication skills than most team sports, yet kids who excel at track are valued team members.

If your child wants to play one of these harder sports, such as hockey, be ready for a challenge. If your child has chosen to run track or play baseball, make sure they are ready to run and work hard as well. If they want to swim, make sure they understand the commitment involved in such a team sport. Commitment is key to any extracurricular sport, team work and commitment.

That’s another thing to speak to them about-team work. Make sure your child understands what teamwork is. Some Autistic individuals have an increasingly hard time working with others; something that it is imperative in any sport. Make sure your child understands that working as a team benefits him/her. As some Autistic children would rather be alone at times, if the sport they have chosen requires a lot of practices you may also want to warn your child of what a practice is and that it takes a lot of work.

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Benefits of Working as a Team:

  1. less self seclusion
  2. inclusive friendships can be formed
  3. learning social queues from teammates
  4. learning to follow directions

There are also sports that they can participate in that are not so team oriented. Things such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing, biking, and martial arts.

Hiking and Fishing for many people with Autism gives a great sense of peace and quiet. The natural world is a great stress reliever. As with nature, animals are calming for Autistic individials (well, most individuals). Because of this Horseback Riding is also a terrific sport for kids with Autism. In fact, many Autistic kids ride horses as a therapeutic activity ("hippotherapy"). Getting kids outdoors and off of videogames is the main purpose in all of this, so a simple bike ride can be the cure to your child's want to play a sport.

“Bike riding can be tough for kids with Autism though, since balance may not come naturally. Once the basic skills are mastered, cycling can be a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors." A benefit of bicycling is that it can be enjoyed alone or in a group, just for fun or competitively. If your child enjoys the idea of biking and does well with training wheels, but finds a two-wheeler tricky, you may want to consider an adult trike, a tandem, or just sticking with the training wheels.” Another sport that I recommend is Martial Arts. Things such as karate, judo, taekwando, aikido, and more – “combine the elements of predictability and structure with the challenges of physical interaction with other people." They are also a wonderful way to build self-esteem. No matter which sport your child has chosen, make sure they understand the sport before they commit to it.

Second step

Contact your child’s doctor to discuss any, and all concerns the two of you may have surrounding your child playing a specific sport. For example, if your child has chosen football and has a seizure disorder the doctor may feel that the risks outweigh the benefits. If your child has chosen track and has bad knees the doctor again may again feel the risks outweigh the benefits; however, talking to the doctor may ease your mind and give you the all clear to allow your child to participate. Always contact your child’s doctor before starting a sport though. Keep things like seizures, abnormalities in bone structure, cognitive age, and the degree of your child’s Autism in mind when speaking to the doctor.

Third Step

Contact the organization in which your child wants to play for. They may have accommodations for special needs children. When we lived in Washington state they allowed my oldest son to play baseball with the group according to his cognitive age instead of his physical age. This made things much easier on him. Since moving to Indiana they do not allow this.

Had I not called and asked I would’ve signed him up for the wrong league under the guise that he’d be allowed to play with the younger kids because cognitively he is behind the children his age. This would’ve cut into my time to prepare him and to prepare the organization of his condition. They did place him with coaches that have experience with Autism to try to accommodate us. Had I not contacted them they wouldn’t have known to do such a thing. A simple phone call can make all the difference.

Fourth step

Once everything is in place for your child to participate in a sport the hard part comes. Preparing your child for the impending season. You may have sensory issues to consider. The uniforms may be made with fabric your child cannot tolerate; also, you may have timing and scheduling/routine issues to work out beforehand. Whatever it may be make sure you prepare your child for the changes that are going to happen throughout the season.

Ways to Prepare your Autistic Child for Team Sports:
-social stories
-visual schedules of practices
-watch movies about the given sport
-give special time each day to wear the uniform to gwt used to any new textures to the fabrics
-take them to watch a professional or amateur game or two
-fill them with knowledge on the given sport

With these tools you should be successful in including your child in a sporting activity. No child should be left behind in any situation, sports is no exclusion to this rule. Now set back and relax, your child is ready to play a sport!