Autism and us: How to handle Sports day

Dear friend,

Sports Day, a day that strikes terror in the hearts of many a child (and adult) alike. I used to love sports day until I smashed my knee then I hated it. I could't join in and watched with jealous anger from the sidelines. I had friends who hated it and always pulled a sicky and others who were annoyingly brilliant. But it was always one of the highlights of our school year and overall I have good memories...

Big lad has not always struggled with gym at school.  In lower school they had lessons with their teacher in a small hall in school and he had no problems other than the coordination ones we knew about. But in upper school he had to start having lessons in a big gym with a specialist gym teacher. Gym became a nightmare. He didn't like the space, the noise, he couldn't handle losing... we had one very angry, anxious, unhappy boy. He started to have support from a Teaching Assistant in gym lessons and we got specialist help from physio therapists too and the situation improved.  But then came the question... How to handle sports day?

Autism and us: Sports day

Sports day is different from any other day. There is no set routine, you have to wear different clothes, it can be held in a new place, you may be put in a team with people that you don't know, the rules aren't clear, it's chaotic, you don't know where to go next... Add to that the fact that you have motor skills problems and find losing a massive challenge then what do you do???

It is no wonder that a lot of autistic children can find Sports day one of the most stressful days of the year.

Taking the stress out of Sports day

  • Go for just the first part of the day or the end of the day only
  • Organise 1:1 assistance for the whole day 
  • Have someone on standby to help if needed
  • Have a quiet spot or safe area to escape to
  • Use a friend as buddy for the day
  • Practise activities before the big day
  • Make a visual schedule or a social story to explain the day's events 
  • Give them a job to do - scoring, handing out ribbons, tooting the whistle to change games, taking photographs, if/when they are not participating
  • And if all else fails... Let them stay at home

Autism and us: Sports day

Last year sports day went really well. I was on stand by just in case but wasn't needed and the big lad was happy and said he had a great time. With careful planning everyone can enjoy sports day!



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