Welwyn Pegasus Inclusive Autism Team supporting world autism acceptance week
Autism is a lifelong development disability which affects how people respond, react or communicate with the world. More than one in 100 people in the world are on the autistic spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.  
It is really important to help promote and support awareness of autism. This provides information and guidance for those not familiar with the condition and helps educate people to understand autistic people’s behaviour and nature. Autism is considered to be an invisible disability and therefore a child or adult with this condition could just be perceived as having a bad behaviour problems or behaviour that appears unusual. This is why creating this awareness week is very important to create awareness and insight. 
As it World Autism Acceptance week, it has been the inspiration for me to write this blog. In February 2022, I began inclusive football sessions at Welwyn Pegasus Football Club. The inclusive sessions were mainly aimed and focussed at those diagnosed with autism and ADHD.  
It has been a privilege and honour to witness and experience the journey this young group of players have been on during the last year. To see them all come together as a team and how they have developed as individuals is something they should all be very proud of. They are an inspiration to other children and young people to encourage them to get involved in a sport. 
When the session first started, the group had very mixed abilities and ranged in where they were on the spectrum. Some sessions were a great success and others were hit and miss. However, we all kept going until we found a way of working that suited everyone’s needs of support and playing level. 
I have amazing coaching support with my two assistant coaches Mark and Emma, whom without, we would never have been able to grow in the way we have. We have also had a great deal of support and volunteering from the teenagers who play for other teams within the club. They should take pride in the fact that they have been fantastic role models to the inclusive team. The team look up to them and enjoy playing alongside them. 
The team have begun participating in inclusive tournaments which are a fun way to play matches and meet other teams. These tournaments are run by the Hertfordshire Youth Inclusive Football (HYIF). These are a wonderful group of people who work together as volunteers to ensure that these events run for the inclusive teams in Hertfordshire. They also provided all the teams and clubs with a great level of support and advice. Over the course of the year, their advice and guidance has helped us grow and develop the team. 
The second tournament that the team entered at Bedwell Rangers FC, the team played very well and won their very first tournament. It was a very proud moment for us coaches and the families of all of the players. 
Each and every player, since joining the team, have improved their skill, ability and knowledge of football. It has risen to beyond anything I ever expected it to. Of course, there are still times where a player may have a meltdown or shutdown, however, we have learnt how to work and adjust the session to ensure that everyone can continue for as long as they can and are able. 
The club have provided us with fantastic training facilities and we have the whole 3g pitch which gives us and the players so much freedom to enjoy and explore. This also provides us with a great opportunity to break the group down in to smaller groups or take a player into space if they should need it. One player has one on one goalkeeper coaching and has now begun integrating into the short match we have at the end of each session. 
Having such a wide open space, gives the opportunity for new players to come on the pitch and familiarise themselves in a new environment, experiencing and playing for the first time. When new families come along to the sessions, they love the freedom their child is given to enjoy and express themselves. However, some are concerned that their child will integrate with the team and be able to join in. 
Our sessions are not about strict rules or instructions, it’s about having fun, whilst playing football and making new friends. This can also help with the children’s social interaction and it has been lovely to see the group grow. The highlight of this, is how welcoming the players are if a new player comes along to training, giving them encouragement and support. 
This is a massive achievement for some of our player who have difficulty in social situations. Some have grown in confidence and football has become a highly focused interest which a lot of autistic people gain a huge amount of pleasure from. 
Our next tournament is scheduled for next month and I know that the team are looking forward to wearing their new playing kit that they received in January. Although, they have been so keen to wear it that they have been wearing it to training which is lovely to see. 
In addition to this on Sunday 7th May 2023, Welwyn Pegasus FC, are hosting our first ever inclusive tournament. This is very exciting and I know that the team are looking forward to welcoming all the other inclusive teams to our venue. If you know any inclusive teams that would like to join in, please get in touch. 
We are always looking for children and young people both boys and girls to come along and join in our sessions. Our sessions are every Friday 18:00 to 19:00 at Monks Walk School, Welwyn Garden City. The football sessions are for children and young people from reception upwards and are for all abilities. You can register an interest at www.welwynpegasusfc.co.uk and complete a new player enquiry form. 
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