Spring has finally sprung and none are more happy than Jordynn and Jocelynn. Having children on the spectrum it is a challenge to find activities that are safe, welcoming and supportive of their needs. The first extra-curricular activity the girls participated in was the Freehold Township Challenger program playing softball, soccer, and basketball. This program, geared towards children with special education needs, focused on adaptive ways for participants to engage in sports by pairing them with a non-disabled middle/high school student as a “buddy.” The girls formed friendships with their buddies and had an overall positive experience.
After two seasons, the girls moved on to bowling and track with the Special Olympics, as well as participating in extra-curricular sports, clubs, and activities at schools. From their participation, the girls have cultivated individual interests, gained confidence, and forged friendships. Jocelynn loves soccer and has the potential to be a great player with some cultivation. She served as a school safety, a school ambassador, and participated in a great number of after-school enrichment classes. Jordynn did an amazing job on her school’s cheer squad and enjoyed rich track seasons with cross country and winter/spring track. She has attended school dances, fun fairs, and school field trips with great independence.
Keeping Jordynn and Jocelynn active and involved is a challenge. Just like any other working mom I have to coordinate activity schedules, transportation, and homework completion while also working around their private therapy sessions and operating within a budget. It is not easy, but it is well worth the sacrifice. Looking ahead there are other activities I would like to involve the girls in such as horseback riding, fencing, dance and art classes. Research shows children that are involved in the arts perform at higher levels academically and socially. This is especially important for children on the spectrum.
1. Explore your town’s recreational offerings. While none will discriminate against the inclusion of individuals with special needs, some may not be designed to provide the supportive experience children on the spectrum benefit from. Speak with a representative to identify any programming similar to the Challenger program Jordynn & Jocelynn participated in.
2. Reach out to your local police department. I was able to connect with an officer who shared information with me regarding area Special Olympics activities. In addition, I completed a survey telling the police department different information about Jordynn and Jocelynn, their autism, and how it impacts them with the intent that any officer who interacts with the girls will be able to pull up specific information about them and effectively interact with them in the event of an emergency.
3. For school-age children, tap into school’s extra-curricular clubs, sports, and activities. If additional supervision is needed to help your child participate in the different sports or clubs, a paraprofessional, teacher assistant, or teacher will attend events and meetings to make sure it is a positive experience for all. Jocelynn did not require any additional staff support, but I did need to share with the advisor/coach strategies that worked for Jocelynn. For Jordynn, aides attended programming to assist with supervision and had the specific goal to employ a GRR (Gradual Release of Responsiblity) approach and move to being more of a “shadow” during these experiences.