The benefits of youth sports for for autism spectrum children from a mom raising a high-functioning ASD (Asperger’s Syndrome) child.
I’ll start with my usual disclaimers which seem redundant now but I still feel like I have a responsibility. Here goes: “It’s a wide spectrum”, “every case is different”, “this is just my personal experience” etc…
Even though we cleared the Kindergarten hurdle, it wasn’t like our family could just go into cruise control. We had to capitalize on Jayson’s progress in order to keep the momentum going. We really lucked out when it came to Jayson’s personality. He’s naturally outgoing. He always strived to be social even though he didn’t have all the tools to successfully interact. I think even Jayson knew deep down that he was a bit different but it never deterred him from trying to fit in. Thanks to a ton of Occupational Therapy and my husband constantly working on him with coordination techniques, Jayson became very interested in sports. He wanted to try them all!
I was initially hesitant to sign Jayson up for a youth sports league. He was still having “spatial” issues and I didn’t want to put him in a position to fail or put him in a situation that took whatever confidence he did have away from him. For whatever reason, Jayson decided he liked basketball the most and wanted to try it. We picked a friendly youth sports league, talked to officials about Jayson and had my husband help out as an assistant coach to make sure Jayson would be OK. The best part about starting in a youth sports league at 5 years old is that every child is pretty new to everything and Jayson’s shortcomings weren’t very apparent. That’s not to say sports weren’t a struggle. Jayson needed a lot of work and often “floated” during game situations. Fortunately, he wasn’t the only one as there were kids all over the sports league, ASD or not, who did the same things. In the end, Jayson loved the camaraderie of his sports team and improved every week. He couldn’t wait to try other sports and join new leagues.
It was interesting to see Jayson improve with all the sports he tried. Like any child, ASD or not, it was also interesting to see which sports he did well in and which sports he didn’t grasp. In the past 3 years he tried: Basketball, t-ball, soccer, swimming and tennis. Some of these sports he genuinely excelled in! Some he didn’t grasp and struggled a bit. In all cases, he was happy to play and improved greatly as time went on. That’s the most important thing!
Youth sports, especially if they’re joined early enough when all kids are learning, are as beneficial to ASD children as they are to any child. In Jayson’s case, I never would have pursued this as an option if his personality didn’t dictate that he was extremely interested in sports and teamwork. I wasn’t going to force my child into competitive sports just to try to improve him socially. There are plenty of ways for Autism Spectrum Disorder Spectrum children to improve socially without sports. That said, there are a lot of sports organizations out there worth looking at. Some even offer special needs leagues in various sports and activities. Plan on doing some research to check into leagues where you find the right coaches, rules and philosophies to suit your child and make sure the benefits of youth sports for autism spectrum children outweigh the costs. Enjoy your first steps into being a soccer, hockey, football, basketball, baseball or other parent!