Liisa Vexler is co-founder of Ausome alongside husband Derek Firth. They have two sons, ages 10 and 12, and live an active lifestyle. While looking into sports programs for their son with autism, Vexler describes, “he was able to play sports with typical kids but it was a hard road for him.” She adds, “we imagined that there were a lot of kids who would benefit from some support in that area.”
So began Ausome, a non-profit “dedicated to enriching the lives of families living with autism through sport.”
The organization has three priorities:
1) Providing sports programs for kids with autism “in a supported way” as Vexler describes. The free programs are led by therapists and trained volunteers with a focus on inclusivity, structure and fun. Some examples include soccer, basketball, and gymnastics.
2) Teaching the children physical literacy skills. These are “the skills they need to run, jump, throw, and play with other kids in the playground, park or in the community,” says Vexler.
3) Providing education and training to adults who support kids with autism in sport or recreation in the community – Vexler provides examples such as hockey coaches, dance instructors, or caregivers.
Vexler notes the importance of providing the specialized training, saying, “I imagine that most adults don’t understand what autism is unless they live with someone with autism, and even if they do, each individual with autism is very different. So they need a little bit of background in what autism is, and how to work with the kids, so they can meet every individual’s needs.”
According to Vexler, the key to inclusion is understanding. For example, she encourages adults that might be coaching sports to “approach kids as different individuals and to be inclusive of kids with invisible disabilities.”
All children need physical activity for good health. Vexler says, “I would encourage anybody with a child with autism, even if they haven’t liked sports before, to come out and try an Ausome program so that they can see that if a program is designed for their needs, they might actually be able to see some enjoyment and benefit of movement,” says Vexler.
Nicole Dauz says she “fell in love” with Ausome’s mission and volunteered to be a board member even before signing her nine-year-old daughter Summer up for her first program.
As Dauz describes, “Summer loves being active and social… She loves the one-on-one engagement. Summer is intellectually delayed, so I sign her up with the six- to eight-year-old classes instead of the nine- tor 12-year-old programs. It is inclusive and welcomes all kids to its programs.”
There is a program for every child with autism, regardless of his or her comprehension, fine motor and gross motor skills, says Dauz. “The goal is to get the kids moving and to have fun.
She also points out, “There are so many worries and extra costs for families that have kids with autism. Having access to free recreational programs is huge for our family.”
Ausome has “truly been a game changer for our family,” says Kate Logue, mom to two kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Ruby, seven, and Desmond, four. Her daughter Ruby has participated in Ausome programs, including dance and water polo, since its inception.
Of Ruby, Logue says, “Ausome has been fantastic for her because not only does she have a blast, but she leaves every session with a sense of accomplishment… The Ausome staff and volunteers are among the warmest and most enthusiastic group of people I’ve ever met.
“My son has only just started, but he has already made tremendous gains in his ability to participate and follow along. Desmond is still non-verbal but as soon as we show him that he’s putting on his Ausome T-shirt every week, he starts jumping up and down with excitement. He absolutely loves going,” she says.
Ausome doesn’t just benefit kids. Logue has found support as well. “I’ve created a number of really amazing friendships with other ASD parents,” she says. “I truly appreciate the time I get to spend with these parents. We ‘get’ each other and that community feeling is invaluable.”
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