Sarah Hope is a member of the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball squad and is a current world silver medallist. In addition to having a physical impairment, Sarah is autistic. Read Sarah's letter to coaches to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder. You can then complete the quiz to demonstrate your learning.
Did you know that just over 1% of the population is autistic? Chances are, you'll encounter an autistic person, like me, in your coaching sessions at some point. You might find that just a little bit of background knowledge about autism will go a long way to getting the best out of that person.
Autism isn't a learning disability or a mental health condition, it is a neuro-developmental disability which affects how people perceive and interact with the world. Autism is a spectrum condition which means that, even though all autistic people share certain difficulties, the condition affects us in different ways. Due to the highly individual nature of it, if a participant in one of your sessions discloses to you that they are autistic, then the best thing you can do is ask them what they might need, instead of assuming based on past experiences or knowledge.
I have high sensory sensitivity and the noise, bright lights, and constant movement of a training session can be overwhelming. I find time to recover in a quiet place after the session has finished but occasionally I will still get too much sensory information during a session and might have to leave for a while. Some autistic people may cover their ears or, in some cases, experience an intense response to the overwhelming situation which is known as a meltdown.
I also need more time to understand new drills and movements. Explaining a new drill in the form of a list (point A, point B, point C…) won't work for me as, by the time you've got to point D, I'm still trying to work out how to move between A and B and what that looks and feels like. Verbal instructions, sequencing events, and "filling in the gaps" are things that I struggle with, so any visual aids (clipboard, video, photo, demonstration) are greatly appreciated.
Lastly, my life is made easier by adherence to a strict schedule and an awareness of what each part of my day entails. If your training session is likely to be different to what is expected then any autistic participants may experience intense anxiety. This includes starting or finishing earlier or later than the scheduled time, a change to the normal drills or games, or a different venue or coach. Give as much notice of these changes as you can and autistic people will thank you for it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the challenges that autistic people may face in a coached session, and social and communication differences will undoubtedly become apparent, but a little understanding will go a long way.
Complete the quiz below to make a pledge to supporting participants with autism.