The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

28 June 2011

Teaching soccer to kids with autism

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

MANILA, Philippines — For families of teens with autism, joining a regular sports clinic will be quite difficult.
AUTISM ASKALS doing their warm up exercise

But with sheer determination of a group of mothers, coaches and friends, plus the desire of the teens with autism for sports, ASP Diliman Chapter ventured into successful basketball and swimming programs last year.

This year, ASP Diliman Chapter opened its first soccer clinic for children with autism, in partnership with University of the Philippines Special Education Council (UPSEC).

The coaches, headed by Jerome Tabayoyong, are all members of the UP Men’s Football Team: Jojon A. Jacinto, Keith Israel M. Mordeno, and Francis John C. Liza. The soccer clinic was a 10-day, two-hour session held at the UP Sunken Garden.

“Through our previous experience with swimming and basketball, we found out that exposing them to different sports activities foster rapport and help them strengthen friendships. This year, we thought of trying soccer,” said this week’s Angel Talker, Jo Palomares.

Jo Palomares is mother of Macky, 10 years old, with autism. Aside from owning and personally managing a thriving model airplane export business in Bulacan, Jo actively serves as the chapter president of ASP Diliman — one of the most active QC Chapters of ASP.

“It wasn’t hard to coin the name “ASP Diliman ASKALS,” said Jo.

“Askal” (which means street dog in Filipino) is a derivative of the Philippine Azkals, the Philippine national football team, who are now starting to make huge waves in the world football community.

Below is her interview with coaches and mothers of the students with autism who participated in the soccer clinic program.

* * *

Coaches, how did the idea of the soccer clinic come to mind?

ASP Diliman Chapter president Jo Palomares coordinated with Mimi Avellana, current president of the UPSEC.

We were contacted due to our experience as special education teachers in Childfind (an assessment and therapy center for special children), and as football coaches in Claret, UP Diliman Bachelor of Elementary Education and UP Men’s Football Team Alumni.

How did you maintain the student’s attention and focus?

Teens with autism are often faced with difficulty in playing team sports due to their social impairment. Our students were teens with autism Vincent Benoza, Drix Dacanay, Andrei Gaban, Paul Goze, Alred Eslabra, Bodick Quentela, Rupert Valera, Macky and Josh Palomares, Paolo Orejola and Lorenzo Berkley. We managed to build rapport through constant communication with them and maintained a friendly environment by making soccer activities fun.

Since most of our students with autism have short attention spans, we tried to maintain snappy coaching methods. We provide football activities in various sets. Simple lang po, maging guro, coach, kaibigan at kapatid ka sa bawat bata.

How did you tie up sports with their need for social skills?

Soccer is a social sport, players have to call each others name, analyze when to pass, receive and score a goal.

The students were subjected to daily routines. They were reminded to say “good morning” and “goodbye” to their coaches, teammates and to each other. They also engaged in turn-taking activities. They also prayed together as a team.

The chapter also organized picnics, so the students together with their parents, had social activities. They also learned to share meals and eat nutritious healthy recovery meals.

What are the challenging things you encountered in coaching the kids?

We found out another challenge that shortens their focus is the irritating effect of the sun’s heat. When the sun was too hot, we played under the shaded areas at the Sunken Garden.

We also implemented constant water breaks every 10 to15 minutes over post exercise schedules.

Another challenging experience was the lack of available playing areas and equipment. We are grateful that Coach Bob Salvacion lent us the soccer balls, cones, markers and ball nets.

He is our Claret School coach and he is a former UP Maroons football head coach. He's the one that mentored our football knowledge and character from elementary to college. He's well known in the field of football.

We also learned that to get PWA's attention, one really has to motivate them through positive reinforcements, in forms of praises such as “Good job!”, “Very good”, “Well done” and group claps as well.
A DIFFERENT BALL GAME – The coaches maintain snappy coaching methods, since most of the students with autism have short attention span.

To the moms, what benefits have you seen in your kids?

They began to establish interaction and form new friendships. This is what happened to Bodong and Iking, who bonded together like the “neurotypicals” (politically-correct term for “normal”).

Soccer also helped Bodong shed off pounds and put balance into his schedule. He complied with rules and listened to the coaches on when to kick the ball or strike a score. The lessons provided him with opportunity to develop his gross motor skills and coordination. Joining the soccer clinic helped the teens learn discipline.

Mom Raissa: On soccer lesson days, Drix would wake up in a good mood. He would get dressed quickly, slug his bag on his shoulder, and chow down breakfast in the car. He was also encouraged to eat light and healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables by the coaches, who are also SpEd teachers.

Every time Drix arrives at the Sunken Garden, he wanted immediate action- warm-up exercises or ball kicking.

His shadow teacher, who assisted Drix during the soccer sessions, helped address his occasional episodes of undesirable behavior. Indeed, exercise, healthy food, and behavior management foster a positive attitude towards sports.

Mom Dra. Marie Segui: Soccer made Frederick follow instructions and stay focused despite the big field and many players.

Coaches, what can you impart to coaches who wish to mentor students with autism?

The most valuable thing to remember is the amount of patience you can offer to each and every student with autism.

You have to balance achieving targeted skills at a given period and at the same time, partner them with cardiovascular endurance, coordination drills combined with behavior management and instructional strategies.

The best tip we can give to other coaches is to have a “coaching eye’’ on each player. Assess and address their physical skills (gross and fine motor skills). Create variations of exercises.

For example, the inside foot dribbling, the kids eventually and unconsciously use their inside foot which is a product of muscle memory during exercises.

For those with intellectual or mental limitations, the element of “task analysis’’ is the most helpful methodological instruction. You must also provide drills that would exercise their minds (Higher Order Thinking Skills).

What have you learned from this experience and from the kids?

Each student with autism is unique, so never generalize their conditions or limit their capabilities. We have learned from the kids how creative they are in making their own moves unconsciously. Most of the time, coaches dictate the activities, then the students follow.

But there are cases wherein they perform some skills, like dribbling out of their own nature. This helped us realize, “Ang galing niya, binigyan niya ako ng idea sa isang mas magandang exercise”.

Another lesson we learned is how they manage to show their familiarity towards you. Early morning when you start the training, the kids would simply smile at you then they would say, “Hello Coach Jerome, Hello Coach Jon” then bigla ka na lang nila yayakapin. Nakakatuwang isipin na binigay ng Diyos ang elemento ng pagmamahal kaya kahit sila mismo, naipaparamdam nila ‘yun ng hindi sadya. Kahit gaano sila kakulit, mawawala ‘yun sa isang lambing nila sa iyo.

Ang pinakaimportante pa rin sa lahat ang pagkakaroon ng pagmamahal sa puso mo. Katulad ng turo sa amin ng aming mga propesor sa UP Diliman, sa Childfind at ni Mr. Edwin Talleon (our senior shadow teacher and behavior management head at Childfind), mahalin mo ang bata katulad ng pagmamahal na ibinibigay mo sa anak mo. Kapag mayroon ka niyan, matututo talaga ang bata.

Will you be willing to coach them again?

Yes, we are willing to coach the kids again. Parang mga anak na rin namin sila. Pasok lang po sana ang schedules namin within the school year. Maraming salamat po sa experience!

Uploaded with permission

Acknowledgment: Manila Bulletin, Teaching soccer to kids with autism


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