Using sport to encourage the integration of children with autism in Montpellier

In collaboration with Montpellier Métropole ASPTT, we have established an agreement to welcome children with autism at the ASPTT and to get them to participate in the sport of their choice with other children. For Charlyse, the mother of a small boy with autism, this approach is vital.
 

Asptt fondation orange sport
Quentin, accompanied by an instructor, during a sports meeting offered by ASPTT Montpellier.

 
Is it difficult to enrol an autistic child in a sports or fun activity (music, painting)? Could you tell us a little about your problems?

Before Quentin was diagnosed with autism, I had tried to sign him up for a musical workshop when he was two years old, as he is very sensitive to music. Despite me being there, the first meeting ended in screaming and crying. As I believe that extra-curricular activities should be a pleasure, we abandoned that idea and I went to a baby gym as I know the instructor well as I had previously gone there with my older son. Despite me being there during the lesson, it took 15 to 20 minutes of prompting, encouragement and comforting to get Quentin to join the group at each meeting. The lesson took place 25km from our home. After three months, I had abandoned this idea again as it was too difficult and stressful. The following year, Quentin turned 3 years old, I hadn’t tried to sign him up for anything, and the first year at school was an eye-opener with regards to his unusual behaviour: seriously delayed language, problems with integrating into school life...
He was diagnosed with autism and so this year I wanted to enrol him in a sports activity. I opted for trampolining: an individual activity which only needs limited interaction with others and he can do it with his brother, who he is copying more and more. Unfortunately, the instructors didn’t let him register as he was "too young".

 
How did you learn about the ASPTT approach?

I was informed about the ASPTT scheme by Céline Darrou, a psychologist at the Autism Resource Centre (CRA), who I had spoken to a lot during the "parents’ group - therapeutic education" which she organises with Cécile Rattaz, also a psychologist at the CRA.
I was invited to an initial meeting at the CRA facilities with the leaders of the ASPTT project, who explained their approach to me: to encourage the integration of people with autism through sport, with the help of a trained instructor. I was very enthusiastic about this approach as it was exactly what Quentin needed. The second meeting took place at the ASPTT facilities, with Quentin, who was able to get to know the building, the project leaders who are really lovely, and Sandrine, the instructor.
A third meeting took place with Sandrine to learn more and focus on Quentin’s specific needs. Together, we took the time to discuss the best way to integrate Quentin. Sandrine is a remarkable person: dynamic, smiley, always listening and kind. She quickly won the heart and confidence of Quentin. After an observation meeting, he joined the group and he now really enjoys taking part in the activity.

 

"The ASPTT pays special attention to people with autism"

 
What benefits are there for you and your son?

The sole benefit that I get from this scheme, but by far the most important, is the joy of seeing Quentin develop with other children, to be like and with others. His integration into ordinary school life is a battle which has been going on for a year, and it is far from over. I would love it if it were as simple as it has been for the sport!
There are many benefits for Quentin taking part in sport in an ordinary environment. Taking part in sport is beneficial for everybody, whether a child or an adult. I consciously opted for the Kidisport activity, which involves various sports offered by ASPTT, rather than swimming. Under the advice of Professor Amaria Baghdadli, I have increased group experiences for Quentin. I take advantage of his young age to expose him to as many other people as possible, both adults and children, to encourage the social interaction which is often lacking in people with autism.
I would like to underline the special attention paid by ASPTT to people with autism. The Kidisport activity focuses on one theme for each period (between two school holiday periods). Quentin took part in the end of the first, which was dedicated to athletics. Team games should be in the programme in the second period, but they have been delayed and replaced with ball games to take into account the specific issues for children with autism, and to give them time to get used to being in a group, being with others and interactions. Thanks to them.

 
What advice would you give to parents who want to enrol their child in this type of activity?

Go for it! The project leaders have thought of everything, they are very open and good listeners. They do everything to integrate children with autism, there is no need to hesitate. I would like to thank the Orange Foundation again for implementing autism support programmes. By participating in a "parents’ group", I have regained hope (after the powerlessness I felt when he was diagnosed) thanks to precious advice and encouragement from professionals and other parents, who are now my friends. Quentin can now take part in sport like any other child his age and therefore I would really like the "Montpellier Métropole ASPTT Solidarités" scheme to be extended across the country to benefit as many children as possible.

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