WAAW: What's the impact of inclusive sport?

At Seashell, we believe that all people should be supported to access fun and meaningful sports and leisure activities. As well as the obvious health benefits of exercise, inclusive sport allows young people with autism opportunities to train with and compete against their peers, share social experiences with others, develop new strategies to meet sensory needs, work on personal care skills in practical real-world contexts and extend their communication strategies. In this article, we’ll look in more detail about the achievements of Darren, a young man who has made great progress in the college athletics programme.

When Darren first joined us at Seashell, it became apparent that he was highly anxious and struggling to manage his challenging behaviours. Darren’s only interest seemed to be the use of the computer, which he would use to watch the same video clip repeatedly, and he struggled to engage with other students and members of staff unless the computer was involved. Darren was able to use the video to calm himself and manage his behaviour to an extent but found it too difficult to engage with anything unfamiliar and therefore struggled to learn new skills.

This difficulty was felt in many parts of his life: Darren would only accept a very small variety of foods and often refused to eat anything when in college, he had limited opportunities to build friendships or interact with others and he found the presence of other people overwhelming. Darren has since participated in regular athletics sessions using a combination of our onsite facilities and those of community partners, has completed several competitive events including his first triathlon at Sefton and is training hard for the next event.

 And while Darren’s achievements on the track are certainly impressive, his other achievements are just as fantastic – he is enthusiastically engaged with his programme of study, he is more independent and therefore has reduced support levels necessary both in the classroom and in the community, is confidently putting his numeracy skills to use on a daily basis as part of his work experience, eats a wider variety of foods and has lunch at college, and now interacts with other students socially. Darren still enjoys accessing the computer and does so at structured times during the day but is better able to manage his anxiety and can try new things more easily.

When he first joined the athletics programme, Darren needed high levels of support and found using the minibus for community visits particularly challenging. With time, he was able to get used to the routine and now tolerates sharing transport with as many as fourteen others. By introducing new activities both at college and in other, less familiar settings throughout his time at athletics, Darren was better able to practice transferring his skills into new places and using public facilities such as the numbered lockers at the local swimming pool allowed him to extend his understanding of numeracy. Short interactions as he was congratulated on his progress or learned a new skill developed his communication skills, and Darren now meets and greets his friends and is practicing good sportsmanship by shaking hands with other athletes in competition events.

After athletics sessions, Darren uses the showers and understands the importance of personal care. This in turn has helped him become more independent in other daily living tasks. Having built up his endurance while running, Darren has a greater understanding of how he can work towards a target over time and he is much more confident when attempting new tasks. He is also physically fitter and now eats a wider range of food, including healthier options.

Sports aren’t a magic bullet, however, and it’s important to recognise that Darren’s hard work in other parts of his course as well as the input from the multi-disciplinary team to develop his ability to try new foods, for example, or use more appropriate strategies to manage his anxiety. But competing in inclusive sporting events empowers Darren to share activities with other young people and has helped him discover a rewarding and challenging interest.

The athletics programme Darren and other young people follow is part of the 'Life Skills' curriculum in college, which is designed to support all young people live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives and make positive contributions to their communities according to their interests and needs.

For more information about the inclusive sports we offer to members of our local community, please see our Sports Offer or contact the Sports Department by telephoning 0161 610 0104, emailing sports@seashelltrust.org.uk or completing a sports enquiry form online.