It is one of our deepest desires to set up an inclusive football club where children with special needs and typical children from ages 3years and up can participate in the game of football alongside each other in a fun, safe and inclusive learning environment. This is a core tenet of our educational empowerment program which will, in addition to helping children reach their full social and athletic potential, also contribute to spreading awareness and tearing down the walls of stigmatization and discrimination against children with special need in our society. In doing this, we will be facilitating a generation of children who are mindful of, and appreciative of the diversity of life.
Autism spectrum disorders as we know are a group of complex disorders of brain development charac terized by a range of communicative, social and behavioral impairments. While most therapies are employed in the treatment of autism addressing behavioral issues, dietary concerns, speech deficits etc, sporting programs including football remain one of the most under-utilized, yet effective, treatments for children and adults with autism spectrum and related disorders.
It is well known that the benefits of physical activity are innumerable, physical activity is very important for the development of an individual’s nervous system; it helps develop motor skills, coordination and muscle tone in addition to developing sensory integration, body awareness, and a sense of self and security. Physical activities are also said to help modulate arousal levels and enhance attention, concentration and learning while decreasing inappropriate behavior. Physical wellness and weight control are equally promoted by physical activities and the mastering of motor skills increases confidence and self esteem in an individual. Group physical activities go further by providing natural opportunities for developing and fostering social skills*.
While most forms of autism and other related conditions do not have any serious co-morbid physical conditions that would prohibit participation in team sports, the nature the disorders themselves can interefer. Children with asd can have a variety of issues, which affect their ability to function and join other children in physical activity, they may have problems with coordination, visual tracking, slow reaction times, short attention span, fine motor skills and avoidance of social interaction with peers. Adaptive team sports like football on the other hand, that provide training in the coordination of arm, hand, leg and foot movements can help provide opportunities to help remediate core autism deficits in a fun and safe manner.
Football is extremely beneficial to a child with asd; it is a social game, a game dependent on team work which helps kids with social skills development, it is therapeutic – improving sensory processing, cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation skills amongst many other such benefits. It is equally a huge confidence builder that exposes the child to more complex social situations in which they learn to adapt and grow and can be very comforting for the child because of the structure and rules.
Additionally it encourages the child to expand their communication in interacting with team mates and learning to respond to directions from coaches and helps with ADHD symptoms. Furthermore, football aids improvement in motor skills development and in improving body and self-image. Importantly too, it is great for kids with issues with toxic overload as exists with most children on the spectrum, the human body is an incredible machine that can cleanse the body of heavy metals, toxins and more and sporting activities like football enhance all of these detox abilities bringing more oxygen to the cells of the brain and also helping with depression which is often suffered by kids with special needs.
This enterprise will require some modification on our part to be able to cater to the different skill sets we will be dealing with, slowing down the game and simplifying the processes. We will be modifying rules to match the varying processing levels, ensuring our focus will not be on aggressive competition but on active participation, gradually increasing the complexities of the game and ensuring that all the children will stay engaged and attain mastery of the game.
Two successful models of this enterprise already exist in the United States and United Kingdom:
E-Soccer (Exceptional Children Soccer)is an all-volunteer inclusive soccer program set up by a father of a son with autism who sought to provide inclusive sports services for the kids in his area as none existed that met their needs, today e-soccer has been adopted in many cities in the US and many countries globally including some in Africa (please see www.e-soccer.org)
I-Sports Football is an Edmonton county initiative in the UK offering inclusive football sessions for all abilities that include learning new skills, fun games and mini matches.
We hope to run a club that provides the highest quality of football to all the kids mindful of their abilities and skills. The club will be free (hopefully privately funded) and open to all interested persons and will be broken down into groups based on age, skill set and individual goals from ages 3years. We plan to collaborate with professional coaches to assist in training volunteers (hopefully parents and other willing participants) that will assist in coaching the different groups. Sessions will be designed to build and increase athletic and social skills and nurture character development.
We believe that sports can inspire and drive social change.