How a Welsh project is helping autistic people enjoy sport
Gary Baker on 24/06/2012
In 2015, athletes will gather in Los Angeles for the next Special Olympics spectacular, a competition for people with intellectual difficulties.
However, an initiative in the Vale of Glamorgan is helping youngsters with one of the 'invisible' disabilities become far more active in sport.
Autism, which includes Asperger Syndrome, is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and behave. The 'spectrum' ranges from those people who lead almost normal lives but may have difficulty in something like concentration to those who do not talk at all, even in later life, and need to be looked after 24 hours a day.
The general view of autism among the public is that of a 'gifted person' who can play a symphony on a piano but cannot write their own name with a pen. It is not, though, as simple as that.
People with autism may experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
Asperger Syndrome is a form of autism and people with Asperger's are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
The conditions touch the lives of many thousands of people throughout Wales, but now Disability Sport Wales, with the help of Dragon Sport, are taking sport to these people - and it is changing lives.
Pupils are trying out different sports at special schools attended by Autistic children and are really coming out of their shells as a result.
Simon Jones, development officer for Disability Sport Wales, said: "It came about from a course we put on a few years ago. We have tried different sports with children, like athletics, golf and Boccia and the youngsters really enjoy it."
At Ashgrove School in Penarth, the sessions are run by two pupils, with 18-year-old Joe Blackley finding a real niche in coaching his fellow students (Ashgrove Special Needs School pupils Joe Blackley and Ben Nicholas pictured above with pupils and staff from the school and the Vale of Glamorgan Councilís Disability Sport Wales Officer Simon Jones).
"It proves that anyone can do a Dragon Sport's programme," said Simon. "We have tried a number of sports, including fencing, and the children really do enjoy the sessions.
"We actually had pupils taking part in golf lessons for a six-weeks at St Andrew's Golf Course and, although they were not hitting the ball brilliantly, they were striking it nicely by the end."
The programme is being looked at throughout schools in the Vale district.
There are no targets set by Simon and his team at Disability Sport Wales for the initiative other than to get children, no matter what their restrictions are, enjoying sport.
And there may be a very special, talented sports-person among these groups who can excel in the future.
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