HEALTH: Recreational activities for kids on – and off – the autism spectrum
– He’s not good with other kids. She doesn’t do well in group settings. He isn’t interested in team sports. She tends to be a loner.
Whether your child falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, struggles with a behavioral disorder, or is simply a little quirky, finding extracurricular activities can be a challenge. The good news? If you live in Henderson, Nev. the options are everywhere.
Just off the 215 is a facility called Sport Social. Walking into the main recreational center you see bikes, scooters, swings, skate board ramps, a basketball court, table games…everything a kid could ask for when it comes to absolute fun.
Four years ago Andrew Devitt opened the doors of Sport Social to kids on every level of the autism spectrum in order to give them a place to learn new skills and make some friendships. Since that time Sport Social has grown into a center where any kid looking to develop a new skill can get a little extra help. Devitt says, “We see kids who are completely non-verbal up to typical kids who just want to learn to skateboard, or they’re just a little quirky. Maybe they don’t have any friends and they need some help with that.”
The instructors at Sport Social use Applied Behavior Analysis methods, which are known to successfully teach and change behaviors, to help kids achieve their goals. They don’t just offer lessons, they give the kids an opportunity to practice their new social skills within a peer group. Devitt says, “We take a skill, we break it into pieces and teach it repetitively until they get it, then we go on to the next one.” Groups range from private, 1:1 lessons to 6:1 ratios, giving kids a chance to work peer skills in a safe and fun environment.
According to Devitt, what really makes the system work is the positive reinforcement program, their “Cool Friends” tickets. The kids earn tickets when they display appropriate social skills within their groups. They then use the tickets to buy cool prizes like skateboards, toys or candy.
Ultimately the goal of Sport Social is to give kids more than social skill or sport know how, it’s to help them make connections with each other. “The friendship aspect is the final piece in all of this, getting these kids to gain a new friend and become friends with their groups.”
Read more about Sport Social on the group website, lvsportsocial.com.
The Junior Golf Academy
Just up the road at the Desert Willows Golf Course you will find Pam and Dale Bowers, the owners and operators of The Junior Golf Academy. They work with kids on every skill level using golf to help children build confidence and character, including offering private lessons to kids who are autistic.
Pam Bowers is the program director. She received her formal training through the PGA and Nike Golf. In 2006, 2007 and 2011 Pam received the US Kids Golf Top 50 Teacher Award, then was honored in 2012 with Top 50 Master Kids Teacher Award for her lifetime contribution to Junior Golf. She is considered among the best in the world and after 32 years of teaching, Pam brings love, enthusiasm and joy to the sport through the Junior Golf Academy. She and her husband, Dale, run the Junior Golf Academy.
Dale Bowers has been teaching golf to autistic students for nearly five years. “Kids who are high-functioning are a good fit for golf,” he says. “I think the repetition helps. So many sports aren’t repetitive and golf is. It’s slower paced, it makes it easier for them to practice and learn.”
For kids who aren’t on the spectrum, the Junior Golf Academy offers group and private lessons and gives kids a chance to learn a new skill in a safe, fun setting.
“It’s been a wonderful program,” Pam says, “Giving these kids an opportunity to experience another venue of sports. Golf is a great sport for their specific needs.” Find out more at www.jgagolf.com.
The City of Henderson offers a myriad of activities and sports for every age and every ability level. What some people don’t realize is just how accessible their programs are to kids with special needs.
City of Henderson Parks & Rec
Kim Becker is a Public Information Officer with the City of Henderson. She says that Parks and Recreation have a service called the Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Service that provides a way for kids who want to take part in traditional recreational programs but might need some extra help – either through adaptive equipment, additional staff, or even specially trained staff. “If somebody wants to participate, we will try to find a way for them to do so,” Becker says.
In addition to adapting regular programs, the city also offers an after school program specifically for kids with disabilities in grades 9-12 (or up to age 21) called Rec and Roll. This program is focused on giving students with special needs a chance to develop skills while having fun. “Bowling, swimming, movies, it offers different things that might help students gain independence,” Becker says.
For parents who want to sign up their child in an activity but need some added support, simply call the Parks and Recreational office and talk to someone in Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Services to find out how they can help make the program a great fit for your child.
Every child needs a place to feel welcome and accepted and Henderson is brimming with opportunities to get kids involved and help them build confidence, character and independence. Whether it’s through sports, fine arts or unconventional recreation, we all have a place. A warm welcome is right around the corner. | iH
Annie Valentine is a nationally published journalist based in Henderson. More of her articles and blog posts can be found at annievalentine.com.
This article was featured on page 22 of the April 2015 issue of Inside Henderson Magazine.