Autistic Hockey Lessons from Coach Joe


BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Thanks to one man with a dream, autistic kids are playing hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

Meet Patrick. He’s a nine-year-old who loves playing with his dog almost as much as playing on his computer. He’s also autistic. So come Saturday morning, everything changes. All he’s interested in is coach Joe and getting on the ice.

“But, he loves hockey, loves hockey. He wears the Boston black and gold and he’s all ready to go.” Said Joe Dellanno, SLS Hockey Coach.

Dellanno continued, “When he comes here, his face lights up. He wants to interact with us and he wants to perform.”

Skating didn’t come naturally for the autistic boy, but he’s come a long way, thanks to coach Dellanno, who figured out how get kids like Patrick to focus and pay attention.

Dellanno explained, “they’re into video games, so we thought wouldn’t it be cool if we put a video game underneath their feet and then make it move so that it’s animated so they have to chase it or they have to interact with it.”

And, that’s what he does. Here at smart light sports, Dellanno projects images on the ice the kids relate to, like flamingos, whales or stars. And, before you know it, they follow along, focus and learn.

Caileigh Sweeney, Patrick’s sister, said “it’s great that he’s doing something that he loves and that he’s happy.”

Patrick’s dad, Tim Sweeny said “I also think it’s joe’s coaching style. He does a great job with Patrick. They made an instant connection when we came here.”

“Every day that I leave here, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve made a difference in these kid’s lives. So, I know I’m connecting with them and it makes me feel absolutely wonderful.” Dellanno said happily.

“It really warms my heart just to see how happy he is. We just want him to have fun just like all the other kids,” said Maureen Sweeney, Patrick’s mom.

Dellanno applies his smart light technology to lots of sports, including hockey, field hockey, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. And, they are in the process of getting this technology working all over the country.

Contributors to this news report include: Pamela Tomlin, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Steve D’Onofrio, Videographer.

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REPORT #2472

BACKGROUND: Physical activities can be very beneficial for individuals with autism. In the United States, 16% of children ages 2-19 are overweight; however, that number increases to 19% for children with ASD, with an additional 36% at risk for being overweight. As a result, children who are overweight have an increased risk of health problems such as diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, bone and joint issues, both in childhood and as adults. Furthermore, being overweight can have a more considerable toll on children with autism. One of the main reasons for the weight gain for children with autism is a decrease in physical activity, but unusual dietary patterns and the use of antipsychotic prescription drugs may also contribute. It may be stressful for someone with autism to participate in physical activities because of reasons such as limited motor functioning, low motivation, difficulties in planning, and difficulty in self-monitoring. Furthermore, increase in auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli may also prove to be challenging. However, if implemented safely and efficiently the addition of physical activity to an autism intervention program can help overcome many of these barriers and improve their quality of life.


SPORTS: Certain sports could be an excellent match for children with autism. Sports that are not focused on high-level communication and cooperation can help children with autism. For instance, team sports like swimming, track and field, and bowling do not require developed verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and the competition is very individualized where individual athletes are valued team members. However, sports that require strong communication and coordination skills, and have a high level of sensory stimulation could exacerbate the problem. For instance, sports like soccer and basketball which are traditional sports that rely on high nonverbal and verbal skills would be challenging and stressful for someone with autism. However, children with autism can participate in sports with low social communication and then proceed to more traditional sports. Moreover, there are also specialized programs for children with autism who want to participate in team sports like Special Olympics, Tops Sports, and Challenger program, and many Y programs.

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HIPPOTHERAPY: A non-team sport and therapy treatment that has been shown to help children with autism is horseback riding. Hippotherapy is a physical therapy treatment for clients with movement dysfunction. A licensed, physical therapist or occupational therapist may use a horse as a treatment tool, similar to how they might use a ball, balance beam, or toy in a therapy session. It’s a part of an integrated treatment program to achieve the functional outcome. Moreover, autistic children sometimes find it easier to communicate with animals than with people. In the treatment, the client is positioned on the horse, and the movement of the horse influences the client. The therapist directs the flow of the horse, analyzes the client’s response, and then adjusts the treatment. The horses are chosen for their disposition and the type of movement they produce. Then they are specially trained for their role within the therapy session and are guided by professional horse handlers.

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* For More Information, Contact:

Joe Dellanno

SLS Hockey Coach


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