Autism Awareness Month, Day 1: Organized Sports

If hockey fights were fake, you would see me in more of them. ~Rod Gilbert

You can observe a lot just by watching. ~Yogi Berra

Spread the word during April


 Author’s Note: Throughout the month of April, which is Autism Awareness Month, I’m attempting to make a post a day about my perspectives on autism and how it relates to different experiences I’ve had. For all those of you who have a friend or family member on the autism spectrum, or who are on the spectrum yourself, these posts are for you. They’re also for all the neurotypicals out there who want to get an autistic person’s perspective. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two autistic people are alike. These are my experiences and opinions, but if they can help even one other, I’m happy.

Give blood, play hockey

When I picked up our local paper today, I read a story about kids with Asperger’s and organized sports. The bent of the article seemed to be that it was good for kids, autistic or not, to be involved in team and individual sports. Through sports, people learn the value of teamwork, perseverance, and loyalty, not to mention how to lose (and win) graciously. I couldn’t agree more: provided kids show interest in sports, it’s a great outlet emotionally and physically.

The important thing (and I’m not a parent, so this is just my observation) is that coaches, parents, and teammates all be on the same page. This can be hard even for “normal” kids. Kids, whether 6 or 16, like to tease those who are different in any way. Add autism to the equation and it can be even more difficult. Many of the coaches in kids’ sports are overworked volunteers who may not even know what autism entails, much less be able to cope with a midfielder having a sudden meltdown.

That’s what’s important about April as Autism Awareness Month…spreading the word and debunking myths about autism. If even a few people read this post, then tell several friends each what they’ve learned, that’s a dozen or so people who are better educated. That’s just one thing I hope to accomplish through this series of posts. I went through my entire childhood not even knowing about autism. I hope that no parent with a child on the spectrum should have to do the same.

Horsemanship is a great choice for autism

The opportunities for athletic participation are endless. I myself have been involved with the following sports, in one form or another, over the years: baseball, basketball, equestrian sports, tennis, hockey, field hockey, rugby, running, soccer, track and field, martial arts. It goes without saying that staying in shape has multiple benefits, including the release of endorphins. Physical activity is also a great, healthy way to process the anger that may build up. Contrary to popular belief, many autistic people can and do like to compete. I have a very good friend whose son plays competitive hockey and enjoys it. Another myth is that autistic kids are somehow fragile and/or easily hurt. In fact, many are hyposensitive: a tiny sound may bother them, but they may not even notice a serious injury until someone points it out.

Most kids have a favorite sport; autistic kids are no exception. Some may easily be able to fit in for team sports (football, soccer, baseball, etc); others may enjoy individual pursuits like cross-country running or golf more. There’s no one sport that is perfect for everyone, nor should kids be forced to participate in sports if it’s not their thing. My experience has been that sports have been a great influence on my life. I’ve had some great coaches and trainers, and to this day I get depressed when I’m not physically active.

One common thread among many autistic people I’ve known has been a general love of animals. Pursuits like horseback riding or dog agility are natural choices for those who enjoy their four-legged friends, and therapeutic riding programs such as Saddle Up ( have been very beneficial as confidence-builders for autistic kids.

Great for everyone involved

One other thing I’ll say on the subject of sports: many autistic people are just as passionate fans about “their” teams as NTs. Normally I myself hate large crowds and noise, but the one place this doesn’t apply is at a ballpark or stadium. I’ll cheer just as loud, if not louder, for the home team than anyone. Parents, if your AS son or daughter shows an interest in a certain sport, try to make time to go be a fan of that sport in person. Local high school and college sports are usually free for fans and are a great way to get an up-close look at a particular sport. Watch ESPN together; check out a sport that neither of you knows much about some weekend.

The most important thing when it comes to sports and AS? Like just about anything else…practice makes perfect.

Enjoyed this post? Please click the “Like” button and watch P&Q for more Autism Awareness posts throughout the month of April!


~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 2, 2011.

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