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Parents, organisers and the happy children attending the Social Inclusion Athletics session in Tulla. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

Everyone’s a winner as Tulla Inclusive Athletics takes off

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THIRTEEN children with additional needs from Broadford, Tulla and Sixmilebridge, thoroughly enjoyed a six-week inclusive athletics programme in Tulla.
That’s the verdict from one of the coaches and child psychologist, Louise Fitzsimons, following the completion of the pilot project on Saturday, which was facilitated by Tulla Athletics’ Club and Clare sports inclusion disability officer, James Murrihy.
Other coaches included Sarah Shally, teacher for the early intervention ASD class in Stonehall National School, Antonio Raffa, Sixmilebridge, who is heavily involved in athletics, Lucy Hughes, Michelle Greene, and Kelly Ann Brady, primary school teacher.
Ms Fitzsimons said the coaches and volunteers have learned a lot over the six weeks about how to organise sessions and support children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in getting used to different activities that suits their own particular needs.
It is hoped to continue with more sessions during the summer with a review in August.
“All children will not transition quickly or easily to the main athletics training, but we strive towards that. Brothers, sisters and friends of the children come and join in with the children, which helps them to enjoy the activities.
“We were inspired by Derg Inclusive Athletics in Killaloe, who couldn’t have been more helpful in supporting us to get our programme off the ground and we would be delighted to support anyone who wants to try it out in their local club,” said Ms Fitzsimons.
“Children often need a more structured introduction to the sport to allow them to get familiar with the training sessions. Some will need extra help at the main training to make their transition easier, but that transition can happen a lot more smoothly when the children are more comfortable with the coaches because the relationship has been well established in the inclusive training.
“Children are fantastic and the parents are very supportive and we are lucky to have a great team of coaches so we are hopeful for the future of Inclusive sport in Tulla and Clare.”
Tulla AC is on track to providing an ambitious new €500,000 athletics development, which includes a 400 metre running track and 1,500 metre cross country track, long jump and shott putt area on an 11.5 acre site.
The club also has plans to develop an indoor astro turf building. Funding has been secured from the national lottery and sports capital grants.
More than 1,000 native Irish trees including oak, beech, alder and larch were planted earlier this year on the site. People can sponsor a tree and get a name inscribed on a special plaque.
The club has purchased three €30 vouchers from 20 local businesses and 12 vouchers are drawn out for the winners of the EuroMillions fundraising lottery every month.
Toilets have not been completed in the new development so the programme was delivered on the astro turf pitch at Tulla United Soccer Club.
Peadar Greene of Tulla AC said they received very positive feedback from the parents, who felt they could leave their children in a safe environment, mingle and have a well-earned break.
“It has been fantastic. The children look forward to the hour of training. They speak about it, go away happy and look forward to the next week. You can see the improvement in their social skills.”
He recalled Tulla AC learned a lot from visiting the inclusive athletics programme that was pioneered by Derg AC on Saturdays in Clarisford Park, Killaloe.
Last summer, Mr Greene and Keith McInerney approached Lourda Doyle and Louise Fitzsimons to see if they would be interested in getting involved in this training programme.
Ms Doyle and Ms Fitzsimons became the two co-ordinators who organised a group of volunteer coaches that completed online training under the guidance and support of the Clare Sports Partnership Programme.
Mr Murrihy said there has been a change in recent years to integrate children with additional needs into their local sporting and community group.
The first pilot was Derg AC, which has developed a very inclusive programme for childen with ASD and physical disabilities.
This was used as a template for Tulla AC and Susan Crawford came on board to complete some inclusive training and sensory movement skills with coaches.
Mr Murrihy recalled he visited Tulla AC six or seven times to assist with setting up the programme and outline what was required.
He would love to see GAA and soccer clubs replicating this programme so that a child with special needs would have access to an enjoyable outdoor activity within a ten-mile radius of their home.
Lourda Doyle said one of the reasons the programme was so successful was it was the brainchild of Tulla AC, who wanted it to work for parents and children, while coaches got great help and support from Derg AC.
Her two children Cillian (9) and Cayden (7), who have ASD, looked forward to negotiating the hurdles, running and walks every week.
“It was very much set up to suit children who could take a break for a few minutes if they wanted, and join in again. There was no pressure on parents or children to perform.
“Hopefully, GAA clubs and other sporting organisations will consider organising similar programmes in the future.”

by Dan Danaher

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