Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Every child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is different, there is no ‘one size fits all’ and kids will vary. Children with ASD typically have difficulties with socialising and communicating with others. Although they may have social difficulties they are usually very keen to join in, they just might not know how.

Children with ASD may like things to be done in a particular way or order, they may have a favourite activity that they are happy to do over and over again, and they may find it harder to switch between tasks quickly or without much warning.

Some kids with ASD may find loud noises or particular sounds or textures uncomfortable. As every child with ASD is different, it is important that the coach gets to know each child’s likes and dislikes, to be able to make footy as inclusive as possible for all kids.

What might some challenges look like on the footy field?

  • A child with ASD might stand too close, talk too loud, or say things that don’t seem to fit.
  • They might have difficulties expressing themselves or understanding what things said to them mean.
  • They might find it harder to know when or how to join in activities with other kids, which means they may choose to keep to themselves if they’re not shown how to join in or play within a group. Some children may not like making eye contact.
  • They might find it harder to understand instructions. They may find it harder to move between tasks, or they may become upset if plans are changed without warning.
  • They may need additional structure (e.g., following a routine and using a visual timetable) to help them understand the plan for a footy session, making it easier to move between activities.

Consider how you give instructions and communicate

  • Use simple words and repeat: Some kids might need simple instructions which may need to be repeated multiple times. Learning a skill might require coaches to break it down into smaller explicit parts to learn individually and then eventually put it all together.
  • Minimising background noise and distractions while giving instructions can help all kids hear and focus on the coach. You might need to face the group away from distractions behind you (like another game or people).
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions about how to do a skill might be needed for some kids. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when teaching.
  • Don’t raise your voice or shout at a kid: Some kids might be very sensitive to negativity.
  • Stop or change activities carefully: Some kids might get upset if someone interrupts the way they do something. Allowing them to take a break or to keep doing things their own way might help. Use the same cue to change activities such as a whistle blow or a certain word.

Make each session as structured as possible

  • Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.
  • Use a visual schedule kids can see at all times so they know what is coming up and can easily transition from one activity to the next. You could use a whiteboard or flip chart.
  • Use a large clock or timer that kids can see at all times to know when the session or activity will finish.

Adapt activities to be as inclusive as possible

  • Shorten activities: Some kids might not be able to focus for a long time on one activity. You might need to shorten the activity.
  • Try small groups: Some kids might need to work in smaller groups so they feel safe.
  • Match groups on skill level: Matching kids at the same skill level in small groups may help kids feel at ease and confident that they fit in.
  • Joining in may take time: A child might not be able to join in with the group right away.  Let them join the group in their own time.
  • Allow alternate ways to play: If a child with coordination difficulties can’t do a punt kick,  let them soccer kick the ball, or practise kicking it off a stand.
  • Let kids use their own gear: The child may be more comfortable using their own equipment. It could be something like a particular coloured football they feel attached to.
  • Kids can wear gloves: Some kids won’t like getting wet and muddy. Let them wear gloves to become confident touching the football
  • Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. Kids can do other roles (e.g. umpire).
  • Consider playing indoors in bad weather: Bad weather (rain, too hot, too cold, too stormy) might make it hard for some kids to play outside. Consider finding a place indoors like the clubroom to run your sessions.

Make learning as easy as possible

  • Slow things down: Slow down an activity the first few times it is played so kids have time to learn.
  • Start with few rules: Start with activities that only have a few rules to remember. Introduce further rules one at a time when kids have learned the flow of the activity.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some kids might need extra practice for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions than other kids to learn the skill if needed.
  • Use footy stories: These are stories with pictures that can help teach kids a new football skill or help them manage their emotions.

Make the venue safe

  • Some kids with ASD might run away when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. A safe venue with fences and closed gates may help parents and their kids feel at ease. Have parents or a buddy help keep an eye on kids.

Things to consider

Some children with ASD can experience high levels of anxiety or worry. See the tips for Anxiety to help them on the footy field.

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