One in 68 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism is a developmental disability that can affect a child’s ability to socialize and communicate. If your child has autism, this is why finding ways to foster these skills kindly and empathetically is key. Soccer is traditionally a wonderful sport in terms of facilitating teamwork and communication. From knowing when to pass the ball to following strategies formulated by the coach, soccer is all about working together as a cohesive whole. Children with autism can play just about any sport that appeals to them and when it comes to soccer, their strong ability to focus on the task at hand can make them great players. If your child wants to olay soccer, how can you get them started and make the social aspects of the sport a little easier?
Reasons to be Positive
Being positive about a recent autism diagnosis will be much easier for the whole family if you focus on your child’s strengths. Many parents will have noticed, prior to their child being diagnosed, that the latter has different strengths and abilities that can find a perfect outlet in soccer and other team sports. A study by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL found that people with autism have a higher-than-usual capacity for processing information rapidly and they are better able to detect which bits of information are ‘critical,’ These abilities can work well in soccer — for instance, when a player has to make decisions fast on the field. It can also help them hone in on the most vital part of a coach’s talks on strategy and tactics.
Being Realistic about Obstacles
Some things that may be a little more challenging for a child with autism who is starting out in soccer, can include having difficulty in social situations, being sensitive to light, noise, or clothing, and communication difficulties (such as eye contact, understanding social language, etc.). There are many ways you can reduce these obstacles — for instance, by ensuring their soccer clothing is comfortable and amenable to their taste and by avoiding evening training if they are sensitive to night lights. Your child’s teammates should be informed that your child may find it difficult to read some of their signals, but also know that communication is something that can be improved with their cooperation.
Storyboards are a great way to explain the mechanics of soccer to your child. Your child’s coach will probably be able to help you with visual representations of the aim of the game, but you can also make your own illustrations to show parts of the game like passing the ball, stopping the ball (if your child wants to try to be a goalie), and dribbling. These storyboards will help your child know what to expect when first taking to the field.
Children with autism who focus keenly on the activities they love, and enjoy running and dribbling a ball with their feet, many just be a natural fit for soccer. Love for sports is something that should be gently encouraged, since physical activity has so many benefits for children’s physical and mental health. With time, your child can learn important communication skills so they know the perfect time to dribble the ball, pass it, and of course, shoot for the goal.