No limits: Volunteers drive success of soccer group for kids with autism
Program is in its 4th summer and provides structure and social interaction for participants
No Limits Soccer, a group in Fredericton for children with autism, is reaching new goals this summer with the help of two new leaders.
Dexter Albright, a 17-year-old with mild autism, volunteers with the kids so he can prove to people what "no limits" really means.
"It helps them learn how to share and teamwork and have fun," he said.
- Mother shocked when Boys and Girls Club rejects autistic son for summer camp
- Mother of autistic son gives inclusive education a failing grade
In the summer, the players meet almost every Tuesday. The program runs like a skills-and-drills session, with a social story read at the beginning of each practice to set guidelines for the kids.
The volunteers use a brightly coloured poster with removable pieces to lay out the routine and schedule, which kids take turns tearing off to reveal the next task.
Audio and visual cues let the kids know when it's time to move onto the next activity.
Albright, who is going into his senior year at Fredericton High School, was diagnosed with autism when he was three.
He said he gave his parents trouble, but that changed as he got older and found a passion for helping families like his.
When he started coming to No Limits, now in its fourth summer, he saw how helping younger children improve their skills in an activity they love helps them flourish.
"In life, they're going to need it, especially when they get to high school like I did," he said on Tuesday.
"When I started high school … I was new, I was scared that I wouldn't have any friends. But after three years I have a lot of friends … [by] being nice and just being me. I didn't care what people thought of my autism."
Albright isn't the only one stepping in to help.
Kendra Wasson, a recent University of New Brunswick grad, is the team's new official coach. She said having a program such as No Limits for children with autism helps with more than just soccer skills.
"Just getting out and moving is huge [because] you can get problems with coordination and gross motor skills and fine motor skills as well," she said.
"The social skills, I think, is really what they take home the most from it."
Wasson, who has a degree in kinesiology and psychology, said she's already seen significant growth in the kids since the summer began.
Children who were initially hesitant to interact are now having fun with the game and their teammates, she said.
"It's so heartwarming to see them go up and pass somebody the ball for the first time, or interact and announce that they're passing the ball," she said.
"Just being around kids and then seeing them … kind of making little friendships, it's just really special to see."
'We all get it'
Monique Lavigne started No Limits Soccer after realizing regular organized soccer wasn't a good fit for her son Josh.
"He wasn't really benefiting from the other programs. They didn't really have the time to dedicate, which is understandable," she said.
I didn't care what people thought of my autism.- Dexter Albright , volunteer
Frustrated, Lavigne, who has a background in early childhood education and special training in autism support, posted a Kijiji ad. It was for a new group dedicated to using soccer to help autistic children — and she was overwhelmed by the response.
She said the all-ages program not only gives kids a place to play but also gives parents a place to confide.
Lavigne said having Wasson is extremely helpful because parents can focus on their children and it's important to have a role model like Albright on the field.
"He kind of understands the children, just being on the spectrum himself ... It's nice for him to be able to show people just what people with autism can do," she said.
Albright, who lives by the motto, "Autism is not a disease. Don't try to cure us, try to understand us," said he knows the program is about more than just teaching kids to play soccer.
He said it's about giving children a space to build their skills so they can show everybody what they're capable of — and autism is just one part of the equation.
"Everyone's different and if we're all the same, it would just be boring."