Jumping hurdles towards a level playing field

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We are a family who are interested in sport. We play a lot of it and often watch it on TV. When our son Edan was three years old he was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy. As soon as Edan was old enough, we registered him for football (soccer) with his friends from primary school.  He really liked the idea of playing with his schoolmates but it turned out not to be a very positive experience. He just wasn’t able to keep up with the other kids and it left him feeling bad about himself.

Around the time that Edan decided he didn’t want to play any team sports anymore, he also started to rail against attending any physiotherapy sessions. We knew what he needed to be engaged in sporting activity to improve his fitness and help with his physical development.

I remembered there had been a talented athlete with disability at my daughter’s  previous school who regularly featured in the school newsletter because he achieved some great success and travelled around attending different competitions. It was great to see the increased self-esteem and positive social attention this child received from his peers and community as a result. We decided to look into whether there would be any opportunities for Edan to participate in competitions that would be more inclusive of his abilities.

As soon as we explained the concept of “classification” to Edan, and that he would be competing only against athletes of similar ability, he became very motivated.  We decided to start by looking into athletics and cross-country running, but we found that there aren’t a lot of resources or communication to teachers to explain the possibilities. We found we needed to lead the  investigation with some Google sleuthing and multiple follow-up calls we were able to obtain a provisional classification for Edan. This involved sending in the reports from the physiotherapist we saw at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Once Edan had his classification we informed his school. They needed to time him running under a certain time limit in order to progress to the next level. This was super motivating for Edan, he did lots of practice, and on the day ran past many of his classmates because he was really focused and put all his energy and effort into getting over the finish line. The next step was the zone cross-country carnival, where he ran a personal best and even took more than 90 seconds off his time! Edan  then progressed to the regional carnival where he ran a more challenging course but still achieved a time suitable to qualify for the NSW State Cross country championship.

Just qualifying for the State championship was such an achievement for Edan. He was a little shy and slightly embarrassed about the attention, but we could tell how much it meant to him and how motivating it was to have achieved some success. The opportunity has opened some doors and he can see himself participating in future events in other types of sports. Attending the State championship was a little bit daunting due to the sheer numbers of people involved. It was a little disappointing that many regions had only one or zero athletes with disabilities attending. We took the opportunity on the day to speak to other parents and found many shared the experience of having to advocate strongly to ensure that their child’s school were aware of the opportunities available.

Edan may not have won a medal at the state championship, but he really enjoyed the event and is keen to come back again next year! It was great for him to meet other children that he can identify with and to compete on a more level playing field. Winning in the competition is not everything, rather, participation and enjoyment are the most important aspects for us. 

Our tips for others who are interested in all abilities sports through the NSW Department of Education:

  • Click here to investigate classification.
  • Click here to contact the NSW Department of Education Schools Sports Unit so that you have all the information to pass on to school talk to your school’s sports coordinator
  • Focus on having fun through the events
  • On the day of the sporting event, I would recommend that families turn up early so that they have time to familiarise their child with the venue and event. This should help ease any nerves of your little athlete!

About our blog author: Laura Wilson works in the higher education sector and is a mother of two children. Laura is currently studying an Executive Masters of Arts and Social Sciences and hopes to raise awareness around inclusion and access to sport for all.

Emma Pierce
Emma Pierce
Transition to School / Inclusion Coordinator Emma has worked in the non-government disability sector for the last 18 years. She has developed and facilitated training and resources for parents and professionals across NSW and presented papers at national and state conferences. Emma was previously the Manager of Building Blocks® Early Intervention Service at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). Emma also lectures casually at Western Sydney University and works as an independent consultant to Early Childhood Intervention services. Emma is the main author of ECIA NSW’s Transition to School Resource and has worked for ECIA NSW/ACT since 2013.

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