Using the power of sport to educate young people with Autism

By Chris Goodwin, Project Coordinator, Sycamore Trust

Today marks the beginning of World Autism Awareness Week (27 March – 2 April).


To celebrate, this week’s blog comes from Chris Goodwin,  Project Coordinator at Sycamore Trust. Over the last three years the charity has been part of Sported and Deutsche Bank’s sporteducate programme, benefiting from funding, training and management support to run education activities alongside their core sports offering.


“One of the biggest challenges educating young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is finding out how they work best. Many of the children and young people we work with at Sycamore Trust find it difficult staying still for long periods of time, so sitting in a classroom is not always the best environment for them. It’s for this reason we started using sport as a hook for some of our educational activities.


With support, resources and funding from sporteducate, we have been able to expand our sport-led education projects at Sycamore Trust.


Sycamore Trust imageOur sporteducate sessions use a variety of sports and physical activities as a way of improving the Maths and English skills of young people with ASDs (aged between 8 and 15). Whilst at these sessions they are encouraged to interact with each other as well as the staff, and have ‘challenges’ set for them to increase their skills in various areas. For example, it could be counting how many bounces they can do in a minute on a trampoline and writing the information down, to playing a game of bowling, recording their score and from that, with help of staff and worksheets, working out the mean, medium and average.


We are seeing some fantastic results from the programme. A great example that springs to mind is John*. When he first started attending the sporteducate sessions, he was very shy, didn’t like sport and would walk around with his head down saying he didn’t want to do any of the activities. Knowing that he got along better with adults than other young people, we started working with him on a one-to-one basis to improve his confidence and help him start to engage with the sessions. At first we just stood on the side-lines with him, then slowly progressed to playing with him on his own. Every now and again we’d invite another participant to join us to expand his friendship group. It took several months, but I’m pleased to say John now attends the sports sessions on his own and no longer needs a personal helper at the sessions to help him engage. He’s still a little shy, but we’re working with him on it!


John’s transformation, like every young person’s on sporteducate and our other sporting projects, is largely down to our personalised approach. Each of our members is set individual targets and learning outcomes, and we tailor the speed of delivery to their needs. As John’s story demonstrates, Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means an individual approach really is the only way to make progress. With bulk targets or generic programmes you rarely see the same results. We’re only able to take this approach thanks to support from organisations such as Sported and Deutsche Bank, and in particular, an aspect of their sporteducate programme which gives us the freedom and autonomy to tailor the sport-education sessions to the needs of our members.


Of course, the fact that the programme revolves around sport plays a massive part in its effectiveness too. While playing and enjoying sport, young people are able to complete tasks they wouldn’t normally be able to do, in a fun and safe environment with support. They are able to benefit from the physical activity, as well as improving their communication and teamwork skills. The addition of Maths and English learning outcomes give our sessions a clear focus and provides the catalyst for a virtuous cycle of benefits. Firstly, it helps improve their academic performance in school, which improves their prospects later in life. This in turn, raises their self-esteem and confidence, meaning they are happier and more comfortable in social situations.


Sport has a unique power to engage, inspire and empower, and at Sycamore Trust we will continue to use it to improve the educations of young people with ASDs and help them become valued members of society.”


As part of sporteducate, seven exceptionally talented young people from Sycamore Trust put together their own film with Beacon Hill Arts and the support of Deutsche Bank employees. The young people were given complete control of every aspect of the film including writing the plot, developing the characters, acting, directing, filming, managing the sound and editing. After four days they completed ‘The Very Specific Magician’. Enjoy!




* Article originally published in Education for Everybody

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