Sports day – Tips to support the child with autism.

To support the child with autism on sports day try stepping into their shoes.


Imagine that you are a non swimmer, but five days a week you MUST go on a sail boat. You have been doing this for sometime.

It is less terrifying than it was at the start because there are certain things you now know about the journey.


  • You have learnt the familiar landmarks to look out for.
  • You have learnt how long the journey will last.
  • You are secure in the knowledge that at the end of the day you will be back home and safe.


These ‘knowns’ make you feel braver and safer.


Today is different though…


Today you have been asked to wear different clothes and shoes.


You are nervous and reluctant, but you get on the ‘boat’.


The journey starts off the same, but them the boat takes a different direction.

The weather is changing.

You can feel a storm is starting.

You look around for the life saving rings usually hanging along the side (just in case), but they are gone.

You have not experienced this before.

What if you sink?

What if you are knocked over board and no one sees?

Suddenly you realise that you are not safe.


You look around for some reassurance, but things get worse and worse. You begin to panic, but no one sees it.


You feel you have three options:


1) Fight

2) Flight

3) Retreat


It is too late for fight now.

Flight is impossible for a non swimmer in the middle of the sea.

You choose ‘retreat’ and hide in a little nook.

You put your head down, cover your ears and close your eyes hoping that you will survive the storm.

Or maybe you do nothing different, but you do still FEEL the fear and discomfort.


The best way to help a child with autism deal with a ‘different day’ is to understand, prepare, inform, reassure and compromise.


A teacher might think that on sports day there is less need to put up their visual schedule. They replace the whole timetable with a ‘Sports Day’ symbol. Worse still they leave the previous days schedule up, which will completely confuse.


The child with autism arrives at school. Change is in the air and they look to the timetable for reassurance.

Knowing what is ‘next’ is part of what makes them feel safe and able to get through the school day.

On ‘different days’ the child with autism needs visual supports and information more than ever.


Ten Hints for Sports Day Success


Visual schedules are more important than ever on ‘different days’.

Show on a calendar that the change is only for one day.

Prepare to compromise on different clothes.

Prepare for disappointments with social storiesTM.

Have a sticker, medal or reward ready for every child who takes part.

Try to build in some ‘normal’ routines the child can cling to.

Praise the children who do not win for excellent sportsmanship.

Reduce expectations to suit. Do they need to sit through every race?

Build in some fun activities such as throwing water sponges at teachers.

Speak up and be proud of what the child IS achieving by taking part.


 ’I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’

Nelson Mandela


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