How hockey has helped my sons with autism

hockey autism story

Autism is defined as a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how the experience the world around them – from the National Autistic Society.

We take pride in how inclusive our sport is and Abbey blogs about her search for the perfect sport for her two sons who have autism. She shares their journey to finding Milton Keynes hockey club and why they love being part of the hockey family.  

“Zac and Walt are now 16 years old and were diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 2 ½. They attend mainstream school, where they sadly don’t play any hockey but have full time learning assistant support. This is a snippet of our story of how hockey has helped us. 

It is said, that the London 2012 Olympics inspired most of us. Zac and Walt were no exception to this. We watched a lot of the events on the TV but we were also lucky enough to go to the Paralympics to watch the athletics. However, the sport that caught their eye was hockey.

At school this had been my favourite sport and in my early twenties and through to my early thirties I picked up my stick and played for a couple of local Norfolk women’s teams. So I actively encouraged the boys to have a go. 

I should explain that we had tried a whole number of sports with the boys including gymnastics, football, skiing, and golf; 

Our first training session at our local club, Milton Keynes Hockey Club, consisted of Walt throwing himself into it and Zac stood on the sideline watching. The next week Zac decided he would have a go. After about 10 minutes he decided that he wanted to come off the pitch. I decided that at this point I would apply the ten times rule parenting technique and simply said sternly “you will stay on that pitch” and now we wouldn’t look back. We have found that the boys have really taken to playing hockey. 

There are many reasons but I can highly recommend hockey to any parent of a child with autism for a number of reasons; 

They can merrily chew on a gum shield, you keep Sport Direct in business as you need at least one a week. 

They hold a stick which curbs a bit of hand flapping. It’s a winter sport which means it is usually cold so when they bounce everyone watching thinks they are just keeping warm. 

They are encouraged to turn around so spinning around looks like they are watching the game from every conceivable angle. 

Most of the other children who play are really quite nice 

And finally there are no off side rules! 

autism story

Zac is currently trying out to be a hockey goalie. I’ll be honest the sibling rivalry has done wonders as they get it out of the system on the hockey pitch. In the most recent, away, league match (Zac’s second time in goal, with no formal training) the score was 6-1. We thought there was going to be tears and tantrums but Zac coped well. We saw him banging his leg with frustration a few times when the ball made contact with the back of the goal but we also saw him have a bounce when he managed to save some corking strikes from the opposition. Despite the final score, the team nominated Zac as man of the match. I am not sure if I had ever been prouder and Zac grinned from ear to ear when it was announced. 

Having autism doesn’t make you the best communicator and Zac and Walt have both struggled socially in school but on the hockey pitch there is no sign of any communication difficulties. We never thought that they would play a team sport. We love to see the way the team engage with them and when they respond and talk about today’s match or playing last week with players, we are so proud to be a part of a local hockey club. We are no longer apprehensive about the future and that they may not have ‘friends’ or what they might do later in life to get out and about because we know they will always have hockey! 

Four seasons on Zac is playing in goal for MKHC Mens Samurai team (nominated and won the player of the year for Samurai in 2014) with Walt playing a midfield position for his second season and scoring more goals than his mother could dream of. In the summer we all play together, in the MKHC mixed Summer League, which is great except for when your 16 year old turns to you and says “Mum keep up!”

A massive thanks to Abbey for sharing her story with us and wish her and her family all the best.