A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum

Yang Yang Cen Tianxu
Monte Rosen welcomes participants with the words: “Autistic people are not fallen angels or stars in the sky. They are not broken. They need love and acceptance like all of us..."
Yang Yang Cen Tianxu
A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

Justin Hourn, head coach of Refuge Martial Arts, interacts with children during Saturday's sports event.

Martial arts tactics: opponent seizes one hand, break free and dash the hand out with one finger pointing to your armpit; opponent holds both of your hands, break free with hands forming in fists and throw them out; opponent holds onto your waist from behind, stretch your arms and jump to get free.

“Yes, coach,” the kids, all 10 or older, answer coach Justin loud and clear.

The children are on the autism spectrum. Some of them accomplished the fine muscle movements required above and some not.

On April 20, a Saturday during World Autism Acceptance Month, they and other kids aged under 10 were invited to ELG's Early Intervention Center in Minhang District to attend an inclusive sports event that had martial arts, yoga and dancing instruction on the agenda, together with their parents and volunteers.

The site at 50 Gumei Road, with its orange façade, has a playground with diverse gym and entertaining facilities, set against a backdrop where the Jinjiang Amusement Park Ferris wheel gently rotates.

The event's slogan — “Light it Up Red,” instead of “Light it Up Blue” — is part of autism acceptance by listening to autism voices, because autistic people have expressed that they prefer it “Light it Up Red,” Monte Rosen, one of the founders and managing director of ELG, said during his welcoming speech.

“Autistic people are not fallen angels or stars in the sky. They are not broken. They need love and acceptance like all of us need love and acceptance,” Rosen said.

Monte Rosen and Dr Shari Rosen founded ELG in 2006 after the latter saw the need for specialized services in Shanghai and had worked with families and organizations across the city for a couple of years. Since its founding, the institute has focused on serving the neurodivergent population.

“The way that we came up with this idea (of an inclusive sports event) is we believe people with autism should experience all kinds of different experiences, movements, sports, art, academics and learning in any way that is possible,” Rosen said.

Angela Ingram, ELG’s executive program director and a PhD in special education, said: “Today’s event was really connected with autism acceptance. And inclusion through sports can really promote autism acceptance."

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

Dr Angela Ingram (left) demonstrates a simple yoga stretch with children, parents and volunteers.

Simple yoga stretches, “Born to Move” dance and martial arts, given by a Pure yoga coach, certified fitness instructor, and Refuge Martial Arts coach and their teenage assistants, were enjoyed by everyone who attended.

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

A dance coach interacts with the children.

Justin Hourn, who is from Australia and has been living in Shanghai for five years, is head coach at Refuge Martial Arts. Having coached thousands of students across Australia, Southeast Asia and China, he has seen personal growth in all of them from training, and believes martial arts are a beneficial outlet for everyone.

As regards to neurodiverse people and people on the autism spectrum, karate, judo, Muay Thai and jujitsu can develop confidence and trust in others and helps express the self.

“It teaches sensitivity of touch. What is a good touch? What’s bad? What’s hitting too hard or too soft? What’s friendly, and what makes it mean? These skills translate to social environments very well, making these populations so much more confident in the world,” Hourn said.

In addition, the belts give a sense of accomplishment and a clear structure to success, which is important to all of us and especially to neurodiverse people, he added.

Expat volunteers Astrid Poghosyan from Armenia, Evgeniya Nadezhkina from Russia and Marco A. Chávez from Mexico joined the event through recommendation from City News Service and Shanghai Daily, experiencing precious moments of seeing both adults and children smiling and spending a beautiful morning together.

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

Astrid Poghosyan, a violinist from Armenia, hails the success of the event.

“Volunteer work is a part of who we are. And I believe there are many individuals that help to make Shanghai a more friendly place," Poghosyan said. "I believe we can do more events like this, when we can unite not only the foreign community, but also the Chinese community together. And everybody together can create an everyday festival for the people that need us. For us that’s literally nothing, but for them it can mean a lot.” The violinist came to Shanghai in 2009 and has been using music as a way to communicate and connect.

Nadezhkina said: “It’s a fantastic way for the children to express themselves, or to just have fun. This is what kids should do. They should generally have fun and enjoy the time with other people."

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

Evgeniya Nadezhkina from Russia (left) and Marco A. Chávez from Mexico volunteer at the event.

The activity also drew a group of parents and children from Bauhinia Youth Center, which serves Hong Kong youth and Hong Kong families living on the Chinese mainland.

Paul Mak, TTELG Group chairman and Bauhinia Youth founder, said: “Today I think at this time and age, inclusion is so important. Inclusion comes in so many different levels, including people from different cultures, and we get to know each other. But at the same time, we also include people with different abilities. Today is also an event where Hong Kong children participated in an activity together with Shanghai children."

After the morning session, Pure, one of the voluntary contributors, held yoga sessions and a body combat group activity at the Pure Fitness outdoor terrace at iapm Mall. The activity was a follow-up to the morning sessions to carry on promoting autism awareness and acceptance.

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

A group photo for participants of the event

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

Monte Rosen, managing director of ELG, presents a trophy to one of the children taking part in the event.

A grand sports day out for children on autism spectrum
Ti Gong

An afternoon session was held at the Pure Fitness outdoor terrace at iapm Mall to promote autism awareness and acceptance.

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