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Autism, rugby helps children and teenagers

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TAKIWATANGA. That is, “in his time and in his space”. The term by which the autism spectrum disorder is defined in the Maori language implies an important shift in perspective. Because it is equivalent to saying that the person experiencing this condition is not ignoring us, as is often thought, but is simply waiting for us to find the key to communicate with her.

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At the Primavera Rugby in Rome – a club founded in 1976 with a very strong social soul that is expressed through the Primavera Cares project incubator – the term takiwatanga then took on a special value. For the link between Maori culture and rugby, of course, but above all because since 2012 Cares Spring launched the Rugby-Autism Project (info on primaverarugby.it).

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An experience that is unprecedented in Italy, because, if on the one hand rugby is the sport of sociality and inclusion par excellence, on the other its game modes seem to conflict with some of the characteristics associated with the autistic condition. such as difficulties in physical contact or a particular reactivity to sensory stimuli. In short, the project has important implications from various points of view, as told by Flavio Serini, a passionate rugby player and now responsible for the Primavera Cares initiatives.

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How was the project born?

“In 2012 we were contacted by an association of parents of autistic children, who made us an unsettling request. Bringing together two apparently poles apart realities: rugby, that is the sport of aggregation and sociability, and the disorder of the spectrum autistic generally associated with isolation and reluctance towards contact, although we know that there is extreme variability between one individual and another. It seemed an impossible challenge. ground and give them rules in the execution of the exercises. But we accepted the proposal with the values ​​of rugby, taking it head on, so to speak, and a magnificent project was born that has been growing for 9 years. Currently it involves about 45 children and adolescents, who are once a week in the Sapienza Sport center in Tor di Quinto “.

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How did you meet this challenge?

“An entire team of autistic kids creates a completely different experience than that of a single autistic individual trying to fit into the training of a group of neurotypical kids. Here the approach is that no one falls behind, and in a condition such as autism in which it is impossible to trace a denominator between one case and another, this makes the difference. Listening always comes first, starting from the assumption that what is “normal” for us, maybe for them it is not. This means not wanting to impose one’s own schemes, but to find a way to connect with them. basic schemes, practice them in the grip of the ball and always be careful to catch the signals to understand where they want to take us. The beauty of this project is that without wanting to put on any authority hat, and creating in the group a very strong emotional bond, continues to evolve. An important step took place in 2017, when Primavera Cares entered into a relationship with the association Una Breccia nel Muro which applies the Aba behavioral therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis, ed) and the project, which started with over 14 years, was extended to children in the 6-14 “range.

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Does age change things a lot?

“Completely. Because although the very first years after diagnosis are the most destabilizing within the family, with the progressive acceptance and a course of behavioral therapy it becomes much easier even from the outside to build a dialogue. Rugby then fits into a context of a general positive approach and inclusion, to which he adds the practice of sports which we already know in itself to be important for psychophysical health. On the other hand, our activity is perceived by children as something other than therapy, and this too It is very important. In the year of the pandemic, in fact, with the psychological impact of the lockdown, the closure of the spaces in which they could do activities, and the difficulties of the Dad, we reached the maximum number of members. Naturally the management of a group so wide (every Saturday afternoon, two shifts with about 30 children and 15 adolescents) has become quite complex because the relationship with the volunteers must be eras of one by one, but this gives the idea of ​​what kind of passion and dedication has been created in the group that revolves around the project, to be able to guarantee such high numbers on a regular basis “.

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Do you have any other short-term goals?

“Resume the contacts we had, some already in an advanced phase and interrupted by the lockdown, with clubs that in other Italian cities would like to start an experience like ours, but are often frightened by the difficulties. We want to give visibility to the opportunity that the rugby and sport can offer those who live this condition. For children, then, going “away” with uniforms and bags like a real rugby team will be a very important moment “.

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