Meet Kiki. He’s a spunky 16-year-old boy with a contagious enthusiasm; he’s a phenomenal athlete and his second home is on the basketball court. Kiki has autism spectrum disorder and has been a member of the Centre for Autism Services Alberta (“The Centre”) since he was eight. When he began participating in the Centre’s community recreation programs, he struggled with communication, which frustrated him and led to behaviours in the sports programs he took part in. The Centre team and Kiki’s family took note of these challenges and made the choice to enroll him in Specialized Services (SS) to provide further support and help him develop his communication skills.
After only a few months of SS, the change in Kiki was noticeable to staff, family and his peers. His communication and overall ability to focus improved tremendously, and he was able to express his needs without frustration. This allowed him to get more involved with the programs he loved. Kiki could now concentrate on tasks like dribbling and shooting a basketball without distraction. As a result, his incredible skills began to evolve.
Kiki’s passion and talent for sports has been evident from the moment he enrolled in the Centre’s community recreation programs. The sports programs at the Centre provide opportunities for children, teens and adults to develop their fitness, play sports in supportive environments, and integrate into community programs and settings. The Centre offers its own programs, works with community partners to provide adapted ones, and fosters inclusion through training, mentoring and supporting staff in community-based programs. The Basketballers program, one of the first that Kiki participated in when he started with the Centre, is designed to build children’s confidence and skills while having fun. Children practice skills like dribbling, passing and shooting while learning about teamwork and game play concepts in a fun and supportive environment. Kiki’s mother, Jeruto, says, “He’s very good with his cross motor skills. The Centre gave him the opportunity to use and develop those skills early.”
“Last year one of his junior high teachers involved him as a player [on the basketball team]. It was very humbling. He got a medal, and it might be the only medal he gets as a player. It was kind of them to include him.” Since getting so involved with sports at the Centre and consequently at school, Kiki is able to socialize, is calm and able to communicate his wants and needs. “You know it’s all really helped him. It’s those skills that he learned when he was younger with the Centre that he’s able to use today.”
Today, Kiki regularly communicates his feelings with thumbs up or down and frequently verbalizes a few words in a sentence. When you’re in his presence, his enthusiasm is infectious. His face lights up every time you mention basketball or sports. He is undoubtedly very passionate about these activities. He has a brilliant smile on his face throughout our chat about his love of sports and chimes in regularly with cheers of excitement, punctuating each of these moments with a happy high-five or thumbs up. His social skills and awareness are evident, and his happiness shines through—it’s expressed in a pure, direct, beautiful way.
Kiki and his family have been valued members of the Centre since he was eight-years-old. He’s taken part in summer camps, art programs, soccer, swimming, skills programs, and his favourite—drumroll—basketball. Throughout his time at the Centre, there’s not only been a change to Kiki’s skill development, but also to his family dynamic. The family loves to play sports together and are very active; volleyball, soccer and basketball fill much of their summer. With the skills Kiki learned through his years with the Centre, his family has been empowered. It’s much easier for them to spend time doing the things they love—together. His mom says, “We go to the track every week as a family and it feels normal for a few minutes”.
“And he’s goooood at bowling. He always beats me!” When asked if he’s a better bowler than his mom, Kiki responded with a BIG smile, a laugh and vigorous nod.
“We really appreciate the support and the funding that helps these families and kids with disabilities. It allows them to be involved in things that they may not have otherwise been part of. And we really appreciate what the Centre has done for us and connected us with. Hey, Kiki? This place is nice, hey? We’ll stay.”
With a big thumbs-up and a smile Kiki replies,
Changing Outcomes | Enriching Lives | Empowering Families | Fostering Independence | Transforming Communities