by Terry F.
According to a study done by Duhaime et al. (2004), social inclusion can be defined as a measure of access to and participation in various networks of emotional, social and material support, and identifying potential domains of the elements of social quality. It should also be pointed out that the distribution of access to leisure facilities and neighborhood services is an important indicator to evaluate the degree of social inclusion. In terms of sport and recreation, I feel that this is no different and that access is a necessary condition of inclusion. Today, there has been a huge rise in children that have been diagnosed with Autism. One of the biggest challenges for children with Autism is social interaction. Getting children with Autism into sport is key here because it provides them with that platform of social inclusion to help develop social skills through a safe and playful environment.
From my experiences being a local daycare owner, children with Autism struggle with peer interaction and it has a huge effect on their ability or willingness to want to compete in any type of sport or recreation activity. Having them as a part of a team helps the children to open up and interact with their peers. Structure and routine are crucial for children with Autism because they thrive on it to get through their daily activities. Being a part of a team gives them that structure and sense of belongingness to assist with their social development. As you can see, social inclusion is extremely beneficial for these children in sport as it allows for them to be socially and physically active.
Social Inclusion Benefits
Research has demonstrated that increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviours that are common among individuals with Autism while not decreasing other positive behaviours (Rosenthal-Malek & Mitchell, 1997). This highlights the fact that children with Autism have many self-stimulating behaviours like: rocking or gazing. Being active and concentrating on an activity decreases these types of behaviours because they can focus on the recreational activity or sport. Although the positives help decrease certain behaviours, it should be noted that certain behaviours can become barriers for inclusion in sport. An example of this would be their concentration, muscle tone, getting over stimulated very easily, and not understanding most social cues. Due to some of these behaviours and their unpredictability, it is very challenging for coaches and leaders to develop programming to include both children with disabilities and typical learning children.
Social Inclusion Barriers
Unfortunately, there are very limited programs that are geared towards children with disabilities. If children are not included in regular activities, they may not have the opportunity to be able to play in a particular sport they love or recreational program they enjoy. As an example of this here in the city of Fredericton, the only programs found on social media are one soccer team and Special Olympics NB. This speaks volumes to the lack of access available for children with disabilities to be able to compete or play in a socially inclusive organized sport. There could possibly be other teams, organizations, and activities; however, they are not as well promoted as other programming designed for typical learning children. I do feel, though, that sports and activities in the area are willing to accommodate children with disabilities in the best way they can.
Lastly, I would like to touch on Lerners 5 C’s of Positive Youth Development and the importance they all play in terms of children with Autism in various different programs. The 5 C’s are: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Caring and Compassion. All children, not just children with disabilities gain these 5 C’s of positive youth development through sport and recreation. Children with Autism in particular gain connection by being with a group of peers, they gain caring and compassion when these peers become friends. Once they learn necessary skills, they gain competence and confidence in their sport and abilities. With the previous four alluded to above, they help develop their character and become better versions of themselves.
For further reading, check out these academic resources:
Bowers, E. P., Li, Y., Kiely, M. K., Brittian, A., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2010). The five Cs model of positive youth development: A longitudinal analysis of confirmatory factor structure and measurement invariance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(7), 720-735.
Duhaime, G., Searles, E., Usher, P., Myers, H., & Frechette, P. (2004). Social cohesion and living conditions in the Canadian Arctic: From theory to measurement. Social Indicators Research, 66(3), 295–31
Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Almerigi, J. B., Theokas, C., Phelps, E., Gestsdottir, S., Naudeau,S., … Von, E. A. (2005). Positive youth development, participation in community youth development programs, and community contributions of fifth-grade adolescents: Findings from the first wave of the 4-H study of positive youth development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 17-71
Rosenthal-Malek, A., & Mitchell, S. (1997). Brief report: The effects of exercise on the self-stimulatory behaviors and positive responding of adolescents with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27(2), 193-202.
Smith, V., & Patterson, S. Y. (2012). Getting into the game: Sports programs for kids with autism. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Yanardağ, M., Yılmaz, İ., & Aras, Ö. (2010). Approaches to the Teaching Exercise and Sports for the Children with Autism. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 2(3).