Every child, including children with special needs and unique health concerns, can benefit from the exercise, learning, social connections, and fun that can be found with sports. At ActivStars Athletics, our mission is to make our martial arts programs as inclusive as possible. We’re proud to have a fantastic staff and training on Autism Spectrum Disorder and other needs. It’s how we can best work with all children in our communities.
Parents of special needs children should encourage participation in sports and physical activity in general. Don’t approach sports as something they can’t do. Exercise and games create a potential place for your child to grow, according to leading medical research. Your child with special needs can still participate and get benefits such as boosting self-confidence, improved cognitive health and social and motor skills, and even reduce risks for some weight issues or diseases. Stanford Medicine’s Children’s Health department suggests parents find ways for all children to participate in sports. In many cases, that may mean needing modification or support for special needs children.
At ActivStars Athletics, we do just that. It’s part of our mission, and we encourage all parents to reach out with concerns so that they can join us in having fun, learning, and growing.
Our Goal: Helping Your Kids
“Our goal is for kids to be comfortable so they can have fun and learn,” says Dr. Sue Riese.
Dr. Riese is a martial arts teacher here at ActivStars Athletics and currently assists at classes, tournaments, testing, and special events such as Masters’ Camps and summer camp. She has a storied career as a teacher, counselor, and school psychologist, working extensively with children who have special needs.
She has provided training to parents, teachers, school bus drivers, teaching assistants, and cafeteria aides on safe ways to help children and adults who are agitated; and how to de-escalate potentially violent situations. And we’re lucky that she brings those same lessons and information here to our programs at ActivStars Athletics.
We spoke with Dr. Riese about some of the work she is doing with children who have special needs, and the ActivStars Athletics approach to their health, wellness, education, and growth. She is currently working with children of a variety of ages who need special attention, from learning how to say when they’re frustrated or need extra time to more elementary activities such as entering the dojo on their own and decreasing their need to have parents present.
Defining Our Approach
“I want to help children feel successful with their abilities, no matter where they are. So, we have to know how success is defined for them, so we can find ways for them to engage, learn, and have fun,” said Dr. Riese.
And we also share with parents that there are times your child is just like everyone else. For example, most small children are initially afraid of sparring. So, all kids understand that not everyone likes every kind of touch, and we work with everyone to slowly acclimate.
ActivStars Athletics’ team is trained to work with children as their needs change, which means we’re always putting education and comfort first. And we make it easy for parents to stay on top of information too.
How Does ActivStars Respond to Children with Special Needs?
“We work with every family and take the child where they’re at,” said Dr. Riese. “It might take little steps for a child to wear a piece of equipment before being ready to participate. Everything is done in increments, and that’s always okay.”
ActivStars Athletics staff receives training and has ongoing discussions to help everyone learn how to care for children with differing needs. Our annual meeting specifically covered working with children who have Autism because it has some unique concerns, but we also learn about ADHD, depression, social anxiety, children who are non-verbal, and other things that may impact a child’s desire or ability to play and learn.
Our efforts aim to normalize the interactions that all children have, allowing us to work with everyone. Not only does it support those children with special needs and help their parents understand what to expect, but it also encourages other children to build empathy and friendships with kids who may seem different, but often are much more similar than first impressions suggest.
Plus, by working together, we often get to celebrate the victories and improvements that children make. It brings our staff and the child’s parent a lot of joy. Sometimes, nothing is better in a class than a child advocating for what they need. This might be telling us that they need a little time by themselves instead of exhibiting other behaviors. We create a space where they feel comfortable doing this. It’s perfect practice for feeling overwhelmed outside class too.
In practice, our work involves pairing a child with special needs with someone who will be patient and engage with them as needed. We start with adults at the beginning but can also encourage limited interaction with friends and other children once your child becomes more comfortable.
When possible, we work to manage environmental triggers for our students, such as proximity to other children or quick changes in activities. Programs are designed to give us flexibility so that everyone can progress at their own pace.
“Parents are eager for a child to have as normal an experience as they can. That’s what we try to accomplish,” said Dr. Riese.
Talk with Us About Your Child’s Special Needs
Considering a sports program for your child? Have concerns about their needs, safety, or other requirements? We encourage you to speak with us. We train coaches and staff to work with children on a wide range of issues already. However, we can do our best when we know you and your child.
“We’re already speaking with parents a lot to find out how to provide the assistance a child needs without impacting the other children who are there,” said Dr. Riese. She notes that ActivStars staff actively monitor situations whenever a child needs help.
There are a few things we encourage parents to discuss with us:
Medical needs or changes to medicine
If your child has had a rough day
And what brings them comfort or helps ease discomfort
We’ll do what we can to accommodate your child. For example, one child would bring a stuffed animal when the first joined. So, it came to class too. Slowly, the animal moved away from the center of activity as the child grew more comfortable with class. It’s there on the side if the child needs it. But, they’ve grown to engage in class and activities, so the stuffed animal is more observer than participant these days.
That’s a fantastic feeling for us, the child, and their parents.
We encourage everyone to come and have fun, which means a stuffed animal joins in, or mom and dad too. There are lots of different ways to help, and we’re continually training staff on those programs.
Let Us Help
If you have questions, we encourage you to speak with us so that you can feel comfortable and find a program that your child truly enjoys.