Different Speeds and Different Needs

Jan 10, 2011
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About six years our youngest son Colin was diagnosed with autism. Not the greatest day of lives. I remember sitting quietly in an austere office trying to make sense of this news. My mind leapt from thought to questions to ill-informed attempts at answers. Do we really have a disabled son? I could accept the diagnosis but not the idea my son was without abilities.  I asked myself what would this diagnosis mean for our family? Of course, I had no idea beyond fear or imagination; but I knew that our lives would be forever different. My mind buzzed like an annoying fly around the question: “What could I do to help him?”

Our lives are different, but not the gloom and doom scenarios that blips of depression have occasionally whispered into my thoughts. Rather we have experienced joy and enrichment in ways that we could have never imagined. Colin has abilities that never cease to amaze us; he is fantastic artist and has an inquisitive mind.  My wife and I have read voraciously about autism and its associated conditions and with this knowledge we have identified ways to support our son’s learning and overall development.  As we are both school teachers it was inevitable this knowledge would also be applied in our classrooms. Autism has made us better teachers. We now recognise and support the struggles of our students through a compassionate and personal lens.

A few years later our son Michael also received an autism diagnosis, it’s fair to acknowledge that it is no easier second time around; you just have more knowledge on what to expect.  We wanted typical experiences for him and believed in the benefits of an active lifestyle. As he loves to run, I started Islanders Running Club – a sports club for children with differences. It now has 35 members with a range of challenges and needs– all of them wonderful kids.

My thoughts about physical education and its benefits for people with differences have developed as I have researched therapies and interventions to help my children.  As a PE teacher and sports coach I observed that the principles of inclusion and universal design are not well understood, nor are they applied in too many instances. I believed there was a need for a book to help parents advocate for their children’s participation in sport and so I started to write. I wanted this resource to help teachers and coaches with practical strategies to support the successful participation of young athletes with special needs and learning styles. The book: “Different Speeds and Different Needs: How to teach sports to every kid” (Paul Brookes Publishing) is part of my answer: “What can I do to help?”  This blog represents a continuation of this journey. I look forward to sharing with you ideas that will help you to support the interests and needs of children as they participate in healthy living.

Author: Gary Barber