Autistic children can have a variety of issues, which affect their ability to function and join other children in physical activity.
They may have problems with:
- Visual Tracking
- Slow Reaction Times
- Short Attention Span
- Fine Motor Skills
See: Autism & Exercise
On the other hand, sports, such as gymnastics and soccer, that provide training in the coordination of arm, hand, leg and foot movements can help autistic children overcome these deficits.
Soccer is a great sport for autistic children:
- Kids can start playing soccer at an early age through church and recreational teams and no one expects a 4-5-year-old to have a long attention span.
- Training exercises for young children usually involve fun games, which improve coordination, such as having the kids kick their balls around a maze of colored cones.
- With young children, the lack of social skills is irrelevant, because soccer is all about who gets the ball to the net first.
- Teams are small and the games are relatively short, with lots of breaks.
- Most teams play on a soft grass field, where injuries are less likely.
For older autistic children the ability to hyper-focus can be a major asset, since the players in upper-lever recreational and competition teams need to know where the ball is at all times.
Social issues for older autistic children may be more of an issue; however, parents can help their child overcome their social issues on the soccer field by explaining to their child's coach and fellow players that their child is autistic and may have difficulty socializing, responding to instructions and/or answering questions. Parents can work with their child's coach and team to develop a learning plan, which will benefit both their child and the child's team.
Autistic children may also benefit from individualized instruction with a trusted coach or fellow soccer player, just as they respond better to individualized instruction in schools settings.
Finally, soccer is a great sport for all children who thrive on routine, since children can play soccer year round in many areas, teams have regular practices and regularly scheduled games and coaches use and encourage repetition in teaching soccer skills to their players.
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