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Kids With Autism Are Treated as Budding Athletes by This Sports Program
PHOTO BY courtesy of Exceptional Sports Philippines
  • One in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the World Health Organization’s findings last year. It refers to a range of conditions that include impaired social behavior, communication, and language.

    Kids with ASD also show a narrow range of interests and activities, which are often unique to each child and is carried out repeatedly. Researchers haven’t found a cure yet, but studies show that letting kids with ASD participate in sports benefit them in unique ways.

    Exceptional Sports (E-Sports) director and founder, Paolo Enrile, along with co-founder Janett Jäger, believed in these benefits so they created specialized programs for kids with special needs. The two also put together a team of dedicated people from different professions and backgrounds to host sporting events to complement the programs.

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    So far, the team members consist of social media strategist, a lawyer, an optometrist, and even an I.T. system analyst — all working to make sports a regular part of the lives of kids with special needs in the Philippines.

    “Sports and play are vital because it builds self-esteem. It teaches independence and helps improve social, motor, and academic skills. It also motivates kids to pursue excellence and it helps them develop important life skills like teamwork and goal setting — without the pressure of winning,” Enrile said in an interview with SmartParenting.com.ph.

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    Sports lowers the risk of obesity

    Autism Speaks notes that decreased physical activity is the primary reason for the increased rate of obesity in children with autism. “Eighty percent of the population diagnosed with special needs are overweight. Sports prevents health problems, reduces the risk of heart disease, and helps control weight,” Enrile said.

    “At E-Sports, we run a community engagement sports event that has six sessions distributed within six months,” he adds.

     

    Exceptional Sports Philippines, founded by Paolo Enrile (left), sees itself as a social enterprise and receives guidance from BPI Sinag.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Exceptional Sports Philippines
    E-Sports also has the Exceptional Sports Academy, which has a goal-based program with daily, weekly, monthly, mid-season, and end-season goals. 

    “The goal can be as simple as 'I just want my son to socialize and make friends' to as complex as 'I want my son or daughter to be able to learn how to jump and to grow in more physical activities,” Enrile shared.
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    Exercise can help decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviors

    Experts found that your child’s body-rocking, spinning, head-nodding, hand flapping, object-tapping, and light gazing can be controlled through sports. Exercise can also help discourage aggressive behavior and minimize your child’s tendency to harm himself.

    Sports can help improve your child’s social skills.

    Learning sports goes beyond moving the body and getting a much-needed exercise. Sports can teach your kids how to work as a team, how to accept defeat, and how to communicate better.

    Although some individuals with ASD find it difficult to be aware of their bodies, with some of them standing too close to people or bumping into objects, it’s important that you open your mind and see beyond these small limitations.

    Sports can show you where your child is good at.

    Your child may have special needs, but that doesn’t mean he isn't capable of doing a wide array of other things. Many of eSports students have chosen to defy conventional wisdom and try things most people didn’t think they would be able to do. Sports opened that opportunity.

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    Each sports class has a maximum of 10 kids and typically runs at a total of two hours.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Exceptional Sports Philippines
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    Anne Marie Chu, mom of two little boys, Isaac and Leo, shares that she discovered eSports after looking for a sports-related summer activity, most of which catered to kids who did not have special needs, for Isaac, 8 years old. 

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    “What’s the most important thing about sports is the physical side of it. When they’re done with the program, they’re drenched in sweat. They’re dirty, but they had so much fun. It kinda grounds them,” Anne Marie shared. 

    “For me, it’s really having good teachers, coaches, and mentors. It’s from building that connection that gets you to do the goals,” she added.

    It’s absolutely normal to hesitate when it comes to letting your kids join sports activities like swimming, basketball, football, and volleyball, but it does more good than harm. It certainly takes you away from that bubble you’re in that you cannot do anything for your child. It pushes you and your child out of your comfort zone, which helps make both of you believe that can do more.

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    The coach/volunteer to child ratio is typically 1:1. A one-month enrollment has eight sessions.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Exceptional Sports Philippines
    Confidence is often the first to dip in kids with special needs because they are surrounded by children their age who are not at all like them — not to mention the stigma attached to the spectrum. That’s why it’s important to first to expose them to activities that are inclusive and created specifically for them.

    “There’s no other program that does what we do in terms of consistent sports development. I think it’s incorporating the sense of fun in sports — we’re trying to treat them as professional athletes, but you want to make sure that they’re having fun first,” Enrile said.

    “Give them an outlet to be free. Kick a ball. Make friends. Score a goal. It’s not necessarily about focusing on becoming a professional special needs athlete. We’re going to have fun first and if you can become a pro athlete, then let’s work on it,” he adds.

    Get in touch with the team behind Exceptional Sports and sign up for their next event on their Facebook page.

    Interview by Jillianne Castillo
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