Last week, I looked into a soccer program for my son. It has been a couple of years since we’ve tried community sports programs and I wondered, “Is he ready?” Immediately that other little part of me that is always wagging her finger at my worrying self replied, “Presume competence! Assume he’s ready and see what he can do! Why not try.”As parents and caregivers, we all want to set our children up for success. We understand that this means taking what we’ve learned about how and where our children do best and applying it to new situations. We also understand that growth happens when we take risks, when we fall and figure out how to get ourselves back up. I decided to reach out to Alix Milk, Camp & Program Director at Ausome Ottawa and ask her a few questions: How do you know if a community sports program is a good fit if your child has a developmental disability? How do you know when a child is ready for fewer supports with sports and can transfer to community programming? Alix reminded me that it’s important to remember that everyone can learn and have fun in the right environment. She gave me some questions to ask both myself and the community sports programming staff. As summer camp season approaches, I hope this list helps you as much as it helped me! Thank you, Alix!
Questions to ask Program Coordinators and Team Leaders:
1. Check reviews about the program online. If there are none, ask other families if they have registered their own child for the specific program and how their experience was.
2. How many staff members or coaches are in attendance at the program? Find out the ratio of staff to children. If your child requires 1:1 attention, this is critical in deciding if the program is good fit.
3. Do they have training in working with and supporting an athlete with autism? Although each child is unique, it’s helpful to know the staff are open and experienced with a variety of needs.
4. Have they had a child with autism participate in their program previously? Without sharing information about a specific child, this would provide an opportunity to learn about past experience and outcome.
5. What types of tools and supports do they use for a child with autism? For example, you could ask about use of a visual schedule, same structure to the program each week, additional volunteers to support, etc.
6. How do they design their programs? Find out what a typical session looks like (ie. is there a lot of structure to the sessions – warm up for 5 mins, practice a drill, water break, etc.) This information can also be helpful when preparing your child for what to expect prior to starting.
7. If necessary, can a parent or volunteer join the sessions to provide additional support their child? Some children may need more support at the beginning transition but would need less as their comfort level grew. Asking this question lets you think about possibilities for support over time.
8. Is there an intake form when you register? An intake form may provide an opportunity for a parent to include information about your child’s likes, dislikes, special interests, motivators, strengths and weaknesses.
9. If there is an intake form, who will read it? Parents share specific information about their child to help them succeed and it is important that information is passed along to the direct staff working with them.
10. Do you allow families to observe a practice before registering for a program? This could give both parent and child the opportunity to see the sport or activity in action.
Questions to ask ourselves, as parents:
1. Do you want to tell the Program Coordinator if your child has a diagnosis of autism? We all have our reasons why we do or do not reveal a diagnosis that may not be visible. Although no one can tell you what is right or wrong about your decision, I encourage you to think through your reasoning. You may find that you ask yourselves some new questions in the process.
2. Do I want to create a little info sheet about my child to provide to program staff? It can include things like strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, and best practices for delivering an instruction. As a camp and program director, Alix says that this can be helpful to the direct staff implementing the program to better understand a child’s needs and help everyone be successful. As a parent, I like to do this because it helps create a picture of a full person rather than a simple diagnosis. It leads with ability rather than disability.
3. Do I believe my child will have a successful outcome in this program? Use all of the information that you’ve gathered to answer this question and remember, our definition of “success” varies from situation to situation, person to person. For some, just showing up week after week is a success and should be celebrated.To find a program that works for you and your child, search our Resource Directory for local Sports Programs, Recreational Activities or Groups, After-School Programs or Summer Camps!
*Alix is specific to Autism in her response as she is the Program Director for Ausome Ottawa, a non profit organization in Ottawa, Canada on a mission to enrich the lives of families living with autism through sport.