23rd March, 2017
At the best of times, the schoolyard can be noisy, unpredictable and chaotic, which for someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can be like trying to make friends whilst on a roller-coaster ride with heavy rock music blaring.
In particular, participating in sport or Physical Education classes can be almost impossible when someone is sensitive to noise and touch.
So when Louis Beale, took his first football mark and kicked his first goal during a modified and inclusive sports program run by Girton Grammar School, everyone celebrated but no one more so than Louis himself.
The program that Louis has been a part of is called A Sporting Chance. It is run by Girton Grammar School and open to the School’s students and to the broader Bendigo community.
Louis joined the program as one of its founding members in 2013, aged 12 and now, aged 16, is a different person.
Louis’ mother, Natalie Beale, said that the program has had an incredible impact on Louis.
“For six months, Louis hid behind a pole during the weekly sport sessions, such was his fear of people, noise and sporting equipment.
“The Girton student coaches had an incredible ability to build rapport with Louis and encouraged and supported him every week until eventually, he became actively involved.
“The Girton students and coaches celebrated every achievement with Louis and built up his confidence and in the end, he was the first one to arrive each week, wanting to catch up with his friends and to kick more goals,” she said.
A Sporting Chance Program is an inclusive Sport and Physical Education program aimed specifically at young people aged 5-15 who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Through A Sporting Chance Program participants are exposed to the specific language, rules and skills that are related to many popular sports played within schools.
“Louis is about to turn sixteen and after four years participating in the program, both Louis and I will miss the student mentors and coaches enormously and we are just so grateful for all the program has done for us,” she said.
Louis attends Bendigo Special Development School and has delayed speech and a limited vocabulary. He communicates mostly with hand gestures and uses pictures to help him convey messages and feelings. The Sporting Chance Program has helped Louis to socialise with peers and to develop appropriate social behaviours as well as allowing him to participate in a range of sports that are played in schools and enjoyed by other children.
Founder and Director of A Sporting Chance Program and Physical Education teacher at Girton Grammar School, Mr John Doherty, said that Louis and his mother showed incredible persistence in returning week after week to the program.
“It was a slow start for Louis on our program so full credit must be given for turning up every week and eventually, for having a go.
“Once Louis marked a football and kicked his first goal, there was no turning back.
“Louis is the perfect example of how a program like ours can help people with ASD live a much fuller life and be better integrated in our community.
“The Senior School students who are trained to act as mentors and buddies to the program participants also get an enormous amount out of working with these very special clients, from whom they learn so much about humanity, kindness and persistence.
“The ASD participants learn sporting skills but more importantly they have the opportunity to socialise with their peers in a fun, non-judgmental, stable and consistent environment.
“Through excellent role modelling, participants improve their social skills and build confidence and communication skills.
“To hear that our program gave Louis the confidence to go into mainstream Tap Dancing and Musical Theatre, I just can’t think of a more worthwhile program in which I would want to be involved,” Mr Doherty said.