CART Doctoral Student Co-Authors Book on Sports Therapy for Children with Autism

October 19, 2012

Stephanie Patterson: Doctoral Student working in the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART) Co-Authors Book on Sports Therapy for Children with Autism

Through her love of figure skating, Stephanie Patterson discovered an outlet for children with autism that also helped them become a part of their wider community. While coaching he sport in her native Alberta, she established a skating program for children with autism that allowed them to enjoy the benefits of a sport while sharing quality time with family.

Currently a doctoral student in educational psychology at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and a researcher at the UCLA CART, Patterson has co‐authored “Getting Into the Game: Sports Programs For Kids With Autism” with Dr. Veronica Smith, associate professor at the University of Alberta (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012), which was released this summer. Based on recreational programs for children with autism throughout the United States and Canada, the text describes the benefits of their participation in sports such as skating, soccer, biking, tennis, swimming, and martial arts including an adapted tennis program offered in Los Angeles. The ACEing Autism program developed by CART faculty member Dr. Shafali Spurling Jeste and her husband Richard Spurling, provides specialized tennis instruction for young children through adolescents on the UCLA campus.

“We go through the foundational primary skills that you would need in any of these sports and the different ways in which families, coaches, or interventionists could help the child learn these skills,” she says.

Patterson observes from her years of experience as an in‐home aide and interventionist that many families did not have positive experiences in trying to place their children with autism in community rcreationl or sprts progams.

“Several families just stopped trying because they had so many negative experiences coming into brand‐new settings with new people,” she says. “It can be tough for kids with autism to adjust and adapt to having all those different aspects of the environment thrown at them in addition to the demands of having to learn a new physical skill and participate in a group.”

Patterson says that the skating program, which took place in a local community skating club, succeeded because it provided “the kinds of things you would see in specialized educational programs, but now in a sports setting; lots of visual supports, great adult volunteers, the use of token economies, [and] the educational supports that you would see in a classroom.” She notes that learning a sport in this nurturing environment also enhanced the children’s academic and socialization skills because of the inclusive nature of the program.

“It is important to find community programs where kids with autism still have access to their community peers, but also have appropriate learning supports to learn and pick up skills within that setting” she says.

Patterson works as a doctoral student with Dr. Connie Kasari, Professor of Education and UCLA CART faculty member, who is a leading autism expert in intervention and joint engagement. Patterson says that the opportunity for the entire family to engage in a social activity was also a great benefit of the program for all, including parents and siblings of chidren with autism, their caretakers and aides, and community volunteers.

“It became a family affair,” she recalls. “Having everybody together [to] take part in something in the community was a really big deal for a lot of the families who reported eeling kind of isolated, going from intervention to intervention and not being able to do omethregular community leisure activity.”

‐ Joanie Harmon

Reprinted with permission from original article: stephaniepattersonAMP083012]