This Dragon Boat Team For Autistic Kids Is Crossing More Than Waves
As the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival returns after a two-year hiatus due to a pandemic, a team took to the Rideau River on Saturday with more than speed and a gold medal in mind .
One of the boats gliding over the waves at Mooney’s Bay carried the team from Ausome Ottawa, a sports and recreation charity for children with autism.
The charity seeks to fill a void in the community as many sporting events are not designed for children with autism or other neurodivergent disorders.
“Neurotypical sport is not really suited for our children,” said Kayla Garvey, program supervisor and longtime staff member.
“These programs that we run, we shape them to fit our kids. We don’t want to change our kids. We don’t want them to fit the typical mold that some coaches would want.”
True to this mission statement, during Saturday’s race the team allowed parents and others to show their support by jumping into the boat, with staff cheering them all on.
If anyone in the boat felt angry because something was wrong with them, the team was also prepared to take a second to breathe and calm down before continuing to push through the water.
About more than winning
Garvey said some kids get “really excited” when told they need to use their “superhero power” and push harder – some even screaming.
“Dragon Boats [are] something special. We are all trapped on a boat together,” she said. “So we have to make the most of it. We have to get along.”
In town and outside10:26Ausome Ottawa Dragon Boat Team
Team coach Andrea Nicholls said the children in the boat did not always communicate verbally, sometimes relying on physical signals.
Speaking ahead of race day, Nicholls said his goal was to not only finish the race but also improve on his previous times.
“It’s not about winning the race for us. It’s about being together, being a team and practicing what we’ve been practicing,” she told CBC Radio. In town and outside.
“Go Big or Go Home”
“In our house, it’s go big or go home,” said Tori Hammond, whose son Finn helps paddle the boat.
“Otherwise, he’ll be one of those kids that you never know how far he can go. You never know what challenges he wants to take on.”
Logan Ryan, who sits in the front of the Dragon Boat, said he felt like an important part of the team. With his mother Nina seated next to him, the two help set the tone for those behind them.
While some of Logan’s classmates may feel frustrated that he couldn’t play other sports at the same level, Ausome Ottawa created an environment, Nina said, where her son quickly learned the skills to run. on the water.
“I’m proud. Like I could do things. Like I could accomplish things,” Logan said.
“They have a knack for teaching kids about the spectrum,” Nina added. “I’m super proud of him.”