“We’re going to the pool with Sandrine ?”

Since June 2015, Sandrine Arcelon has become enthusiastic about the inclusion of children with autism. As a skilled educator in adapted physical activities at ASPTT Montpellier.
She is well liked wherever she goes thanks to her people skills. Parents like her, children love her. Today, she is the cornerstone of the programme and conveys her experience together with concerned educators. This is her story.

Gabriel is a young child with big bright eyes, very long lashes and a mischievous smile. He is very active and rather stubborn. I would say he is a real sweetie, as he is so slim and lively. He loves to talk, pronouncing words which seem to come straight out of a Japanese cartoon, run, or sit down when he’s supposed to... do quite the opposite. His form of communication is the PECS method and the dot. As a lot of autistic children, he has evolved next to the world around him, you might think, without really paying attention to it, but I can see that out of the corner of his eye, he watches, observes what his mates do and if I’m not too far away from him. In his character, or functioning, I still couldn’t tell you if it’s more one or the other that are at stake, sometimes he looks for the breaking point... the moment I get cross and raise my voice, in order to get him back on track, at least I hope, but he often wins. Sometimes he’s in marshmallow mode, refusing to stand on his feet, letting himself melt away on the ground and waiting for me to pick him up. He behaves like this when he doesn’t like the activity or it’s too long to wait. His mate, Camille and Lon from his Kidisport group very often try to take him with them on walks... Everyone likes him.


A gym session


After coming into contact in May 2016, I met Jean-André, Gabriel’s father and Kenzo’s stepfather. Kenzo is Gabriel’s half-brother, from a former marriage, who also suffers from ASD, on 9 June. His dad was lonely without his children. Back then, he wanted him to have swimming lessons, but since he wasn’t totally potty trained, a special Kidisport activity was chosen.
When I met Gabriel, I had the feeling we would get along famously.
And we certainly did, there was no great trouble taking care of him during the entire sport session, even if I did spent the whole time running after him and trying to pick him up, hence this guy’s nickname marshmallow.

Asptt Montpellier

Using the tablet is very useful with Gabriel at Kidisport, I used it in the beginning to show him the exercises we would do. Very soon I realised I shouldn’t to show him too technical images, but rather a collage with two or three images together with a phrase, it’s also good to calm him down during long waits with a puzzle or memory game.

Since 7 March 2017, Gabriel has taken up swimming lessons, in a slot which couldn’t find a free athlete. As he felt like a duck to water, I needed to watch Gabriel like a hawk. I spent much of the first session jumping into the water as he is so stealthy and won’t catch the pole. He loves discovering support feelings, floating, making the pool noodle he use to float dance. He’s constantly experimenting and has evolved quickly. He arrives with his swimming cap tight on his head, his goggles already on, and he doesn’t touch them again throughout the session. It’s a joy to see him so comfortable in the water. He floats, jumps around, and swims under obstacles, however he refuses any material assistance and won’t catch the pole as he moves away. So much so that one day the head of the pool section while visiting the pool was able to watch Gabriel, swimming twenty meters backstroke without almost no effort because he refused to stop swimming and come back up.

The others
Everyone loves Gabriel, his activity mates, my colleagues. Little Thomas decided Gabriel was his mate, Camille and Lon from his Kidisport group very often try to take him with them on walks... Everyone likes him.

And me
Gabriel is very engaging, I’m doing everything for him to have the chance to become independent within out structure. Once he doesn’t need me anymore I’ll be proud of him, but I would surely feel sad about not taking care of him anymore.

He’s made a lot of progress, he’s expressing himself better every time. He’s glad to go play sports; his dad told me he delivers the sentence “we’re going to the pool with Sandrine” when he shows him his bag. The physiotherapist who hadn’t seen him for two months has gained more understanding of instructions and has especially started applying them. And the most beautiful sentence he told me one day was “I love you, Sandrine” and I thought my heart was going to melt away right there.

Children don’t cheat, and those suffering from autism, even less so. Thanks to your support Gabriel, Kenzo, Youssef, Marielle, Louca, Hugo, Sihamoudine, Nicolas, Medhi, Danyl, and Aman have practised sports almost like the others and soon they will be joined by Felix, Lucie, Ilyan, Auxence Liam, Loic, Leon and Eva.
Thank you for making that possible.

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