|Archie & Annabelle|
|Autism Friendly Rugby|
Archie and his sister Annabelle have been involved with the Autism-Friendly Rugby at Strathmore Community Rugby Trust for over a year. Archie had previously tried a non Autism session at another local club and had really struggled to engage with the other children and participate in a full session. This resulted in Archie no longer attending and unfortunately his sister (Annabelle) had to stop attending as Archie struggled to watch from the side to allow his sister to take part.
Archies auditory system is hypersensitive to noise and as a result he often covers his ears, wears his hood up or wears his ear defenders in situations he finds over stimulating. The coaches have thought about the children’s auditory needs to help with their individual sensory processing difficulties and ensure that no whistles are used at the sessions.
Annabelle (Archies sister)
Annabelle is Archie’s younger sister. She is neurotypical and does not have a diagnosis of Autism. These Sessions are crucial to her weekly respite from Archie. The sessions allow her to make friends with kids that also have siblings with Autism and it gives them a special understanding and connection. When Annabelle goes to other clubs that Archie attends along with her you can see that even though she is only 6 years old she never switches off and is always watching her brother to ensure he is happy. You often hear her apologising to other children and explaining to other children abouts Archies needs, his behaviour, unpredictable stimming and as a result she remains in the role of a young carer.
It has been fantastic to see that she feels relaxed enough during these sessions to just be herself and not fill the role of a young carer. This gives her the crucial break that she requires for her mental health. She has made friends with some of the children and has socialised with them outside of rugby where she does not feel embarrassed or anxious about inviting them to her house as they fully understand Autism as they also have a sibling with a diagnosis.
How does playing rugby benefit you?
Archie has a diagnosis of Autism and secondary to his Autism he has sensory processing difficulties, low muscle tone and hyper mobile joints. The specifically tailored Autism rugby sessions are fantastic and have been extremely beneficial towards Archie’s progress socially, physically and mentally. The sessions are run by staff that are very well educated around Autism and engage well with the parents to learn the children’s individual needs.
Archie along with many other individuals who have Autism require routine and structure in everyday life and struggle with change. The sessions have a set routine which is followed each week along with a daily routine board which helps him to navigate through the sessions and helps to reduce his level of anxiety as he has that visual prompt present throughout the session. Archie was given a visual story prior to his first session which was able to keep and refer back to as required. This helped to alleviate the unknown which reduced his level of anxiety and was beneficial towards his mental state.
What is your best rugby memory?
Archie says his best rugby memory is getting to run fast
Annabelle says her best rugby memory is making friends
Parent – As a parent I would say the best memories are watching your children relax and open up. The excitement they have on their faces each week when they realise it is the day for going to rugby, I never have to persuade them or encourage them to go. They are always ecstatic to go. The amazing connection they have with the coaches and the level of understanding the coaches have of them.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying rugby?
Archie – You can run fast and play sharks and fishes
Annabelle – It makes me laugh and giggle
Parent – I could not recommend it more from many different perspectives, it is just fantastic.
Notes from Parent
As a parent of a child with Autism, the Autism-Friendly Rugby has been like a lifeline. It has given me one hour a week of respite which is crucially required. It has helped with my mental health as other parents that attend understand your daily worries and struggles that you face as a parent of a child with additional needs. You are able to communicate with other parents and share suggestions and advice.
Archie’s auditory system is hypersensitive to noise and as a result he often covers his ears, wears his hood up or wears his ear defenders in situations he finds over stimulating. The coaches have thought about the children’s auditory needs to help with their individual sensory processing difficulties and ensure that no whistles are used, staff do not shout and groups are small helping to reduce the level of noise. However as individuals’ needs are all different there are ear defenders provided by the Trust available at each session that the children can freely access if and when required. When Archie first started with the Autism-Friendly Rugby he would wear his ear defenders every week and now with his needs being met and him feeling comfortable and relaxed he wears them less than 5% of the time.
The staff have also been trained in Makaton and use PEC cards which many individuals with Autism use. This allows Archie other avenues to communicate his needs when he is unable to communicate through speech.
He has gained new friends who he socialises with outside rugby. Physically he is getting stronger and more mobile due to the exercise he now takes part in. Mentally he feels that he belongs to something and this makes him feel included and happy.