By Alesha Capone
Hoppers Crossing Soccer Club and the KS Foundation have launched a program for children with autism to play the sport.
The foundation was established by Western United player Kaine Sheppard to help people with autism experience football in safe environments, inspired by his brother Jake’s love of coming to watch him play every week.
HCSC president Jessie Gallagher-Smart said that under its affiliation with the foundation, the club started the ASD Academy so that children with autism could learn soccer skills in a fun way every week, without sensory overloads such as introducing them to 20 other young players at once.
“We just wanted an activity where it’s fun, they can run and take part and won’t get in trouble if they need to stop or take a break,” she said.
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said the ASD Academy acted as a bridging program into HCSC’s Academy program for other young players.
Coaches across the two groups to help children transition from one academy to the other, and the youngsters with autism can also return to playing with the ASD Academy if they wish.
The ASD Academy kicked off last month before lockdown was introduced, but has suspended its weekly sessions due to pandemic restrictions.
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said the idea for the ASD Academy, which she and her husband run, came about because their eldest son has autism and their youngest son does not.
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said that although there were pathways for their younger son to play soccer , there was not such a readily-available opportunity for their older son.
“As we were coming up against this, we thought lots of families would be as well,” she said.
“At our club, we want to involve everyone, no one has to sit on the sidelines – we will facilitate a way for everyone to take part.”
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said her son enjoyed the friendship aspect which the ASD program provides, with the players also having their own handshake and songs.
“I feel like the kids really get something out of the social side of it,” she said.
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said Kaine Sheppard’s involvement in the academy has been great.
She said that she has been talking to Shepherd about taking the ASD Academy players to watch a Western United game.
Mrs Gallagher-Smart said children interested in the ASD Academy could take part in a trial. After that, the cost is $15.