Sports and the ASD/ADHD child
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
First let's recognise that every child has different strengths and weaknesses, children on the Autistic Spectrum even more so. Many don't like sports due to the increased sensory stimuli, the noise, crowds (pre-COVID and during), the casual adults (coaches in their life and hour or so a week), the lack of a structured routine and there are a whole lot more. All these unknown and uncertain factors can play havoc with an ASD child's sensory input.
I have to say, in our situation, our eldest loves sport. He has been doing some form of activity since the age of two, so it's part of his routine. He enjoys the release, enjoys the freedom, enjoys the opportunity to get physically active - which might tie into his ADHD more but it's a part of him.
We started with a toddler soccer group at the age of two until he was 5. The coaches had differing times for the different age groups, so it was quite good. It was sold in 6 week blocks, and the first week was free. To help our lad get used to the group initially, I had to literally hold his hand and take part in the lesson for a week or two. Over the next few weeks, the hand holding and joint participation became less and less, after his first 6 weeks he ran into the hall and didn't look for me. It was great to see.
When he was 5 and we finished with the group, we went along to a local soccer club for a few weeks but he hated it. 5 to 7 years were mixed, so, many different abilities and sizes. The coaches shouted more. The coaches were more direct. The coaches were there to complete a lesson plan. It was all outdoors and parents were kept off the pitch. His interest in sport was diminishing by the week, the more we tried it, hoping it would become a part of his routine.
We tried the local GAA club for a couple of weeks, as something different and it was amazing. Indoors. 100 kids of the same age. Constant variation in the activities, changing every 10-15 minutes. 4 to 6 groups of kids with a large number of adults with each group. Indoors mainly but one section was always outdoor (weather permitting). He quickly fell in love with sport again, I was so happy.
Again there was hand holding and joint participation but only for a week or so. There was extra work for him at home, catching and kicking practice - starting with a soft sponge/foam play ball but it helped him get a grasp of movement and patterns of actions. He's 9 and a half now and goes 3 times a week to training and games (pre-COVID). He's rising the sliotar, catching it and striking in the air. He's catching the football, picking it up, soloing a little and kicking the ball. He's not the best in the group by any means, but he tries hard, he participates and has fun. It's amazing to see.
We had issues in the Cul Camps and Summer camps, where the coaches were typically young and the days were much longer. After 3 or 4 meltdowns it was obvious that camps weren't for him. Other Summer Camps, he was fine in Drama, mixed sports/activity and lego. We think it was just the stilus of large numbers of kids and not knowing what he was supposed to do or how to act/behave.
When we got a diagnosis late 2019 we told his coaches at GAA, their reply was heartwarming 'Sure that's him. He is what he is and he is who he is.' As a group they've handled him superbly, made a few accomodations but on the whole, he's one of the team and fits in well.
As well as GAA (football and hurling), he joined a Junior Badminton club, which he enjoys. It's a very different sport. Quieter, more movement concentrated, technique based - he has been doing it for around a year and is handling it well.
He also attends Karate once a week. I was extremely hesitant on this. At times he can be violent in his meltdowns and I didn't want him trained in how to hit correctly. After a few child professionals suggested that it can actually help his focus and discipline, I caved in and allowed him to go. Again, he's enjoyed the weekly sessions (pre-Covid), practice's at home and has again allowed him to work on different movement patterns. My main concerns were shown in reverse, at home if he hits during a meltdown now, he's actually much more restrained. It's like he knows how to hit and how sore/powerful it can be (thanks to sparring at Karate) so, he doesn't do it. There might be a whole other reason, it could be the effects of the work my wife is doing following through with NVR. It could be the work I'm following through with using the ASCEND programme. It might be that he's matured a little more. Whatever it is, it's helping.
In summary on Sports for children on the spectrum and certainly those with ADHD, I strongly suggest on finding a sport or activity for your child. Give it time. Take numerous trips before deciding to give up (if applicable) - my own fella takes two weeks to get into any sort of rhythm - if the activity is once a week, it might take a month. If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. GAA, Rugby, Soccer, Karate, Badminton, Hockey, Camogie, Fencing, Running, Swimming, Horse riding, 10 pin bowling - try them all if you need to. The more active your child is, the easier it will be. Again, I'm acutely aware that some on the spectrum may not be able to function at any 'sport' - make it an activity - walk in the park, walk around the block, walk on the beach, get to a swimming pool - make it part of their and your routine.
My lad has had a bike (or some form of wheeled transport) since he was 2 or 3 - scooters, flickers, freewheelers etc. During COVID we got the stabilisers of his bike. 4 years after he started pedalling on a bike, we got the stabilsers off. It took 3 solid days of practise during COVID whilst doing almost nothing else, but he was ready, he was determined and he got there. He was absolutely chuffed to bits. He cycles around a little on his own now, never in traffic just through parks and along paths etc. If he cycles too far ahead, he stops and will allow us to catch up - but these type of things are possible.