World’s biggest athletics carnival for children with autism
Imagine organising a school athletics carnival for 650 children. Now imagine each student has autism, and you start to appreciate the vision that drove this year’s 6th annual Aspect Athletics Carnival for Children with Autism held on Thursday 19th September at Sydney Olympic Park Athletics Centre, Homebush.
The world’s biggest athletics carnival for children with autism is an initiative of Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), the largest not-for-profit autism-service provider in Australia. The very notion seemed impossible to many when the concept was first conceived five years ago: children on the autism spectrum often find over stimulation and change in routine too much to handle. But Aspect believed deeply in the value of bringing its students together in a spirit of fun and competition – while enjoying a sense of belonging to a broader autism community.
This year’s Aspect Athletics Carnival for Children with Autism involved more than 650 students with autism from eight autism-specific Aspect schools and satellite classes across NSW, along with parents, carers, volunteers, teachers, school staff and supporters. Special guests included Special Olympian Gold medallist Chris Bunton, the Special Olympics dance troupe, and crowd favourites Buzz & Woody (from Toy Story).
Preparing for the Carnival
Children with autism often find it difficult to cope with social interactions due to impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests, and sensory sensitivities.
Preparation was key to the success of the Aspect Athletics Carnival. Aspect school principals, parents, carers and teachers spent weeks and months helping minimise surprises for the children on the day. This involved spending time practicing, walking and talking through what to expect, and guiding students in ways to respond and behave in expected situations.
Participating schools from across NSW
Children from eight autism-specific Aspect Schools, and satellite classes across NSW participated in this year’s Aspect Athletics Carnival for Children with Autism, representing Sydney (South East Sydney, Western Sydney and Vern Barnett in Forestville), the Central Coast, Hunter, Macarthur, Riverina and South Coast. Aspect Central Coast School was the proud winner of this year’s carnival.