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This month was previously known as Autism Awareness Month, but the Autism Society of America decided to change the title, last year, to be what we now know as Autism Acceptance Month (AAM). Their decision to change the title was to shift the focus to provide more support and opportunities for families to develop a strong support system. Acceptance is something we all must continue working towards, but it starts with educating ourselves. Take the time to learn about another’s perspective in hopes to be more aware and accepting of all disabilities, especially Autism.

So, what is Autism? Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Since Autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with Autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with Autism learn, think, and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. 

Celebrate Differences

Over the last few years, Autism diagnoses have been increasingly growing. The Autism Society of America recognizes that ASD affects 1 in 44 children in the United States, including people from all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic standings. No matter who you are, where you live, or your abilities, you should be able to access everything you need, or want, to live your life to its fullest extent. Engage in meaningful and informative conversations surrounding the Autism community by participating in the #CelebrateDifferences hashtag across social media.

Promote Inclusion

Acceptance and inclusion are vital to improving opportunities for individuals with Autism in their education, employment, housing, health care, and all of life’s journey. Let us aim to create a world where all people with Autism can reach their full potential, by giving them access to information, resources, and tools to be engaged and involved in their local communities. In an effort to show inclusion, acceptance, and support to Autistic individuals – look into a TOPSoccer program near you.

Autism Community USYS Resources

US Youth Soccer’s TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a recreational sports program for children and adults with intellectual, emotional, or physical disabilities offered only through local USYS affiliated soccer clubs. TOPSoccer provides people with diverse abilities, including people with Autism, an opportunity to play soccer in a structured environment that is safe, fun, supportive, and inclusive. USYS currently has 51 of our 54 state associations with TOPSoccer programs – a number that has continued to increase over the years due to all the good brought by this program.

Local TOPSoccer programs are ideally suited to participants with ASD because of everything we have to offer:

  • Buddies: Each participant is assigned a volunteer, trained ‘Buddy’ who is typically a little older and neurotypical. This Buddy works with their player individually and makes sure they are safe, engaged, supported, and having fun. The player-Buddy relationship is maintained throughout the course of a season, resulting in strong interpersonal bonds and an establishment of trust and confidence that allows each player to achieve their full potential.
  • Coaches: TOPSoccer coaches and administrators have taken formal USYS education and certification training that assists them in successfully delivering the program. In addition to providing coaching strategies and tactics specifically for children with special needs, the training identifies the traits of the most common disabilities and provides guidance on how to modify typical soccer practice activities so everyone can be successful.
  • Grouping: Players are grouped by ability, not just age, such that they can develop at their own pace and participate amongst others with similar abilities.

TOPSoccer Resources

This year, at the USYS Regional level, we are finally having our 2022 Midwest and West TOPSoccer Symposium – after being postponed because of COVID-19. New Mexico Youth Soccer Association is hosting this year. They are looking forward to an educational, collaborative, and engaging event that will bring more opportunities for anyone to enjoy the game. Some topics being taught at TOPS Symposium:

  • How to start a TOPS program in your area
  • Sign Language
  • Behavior Modification
  • Adaptive Physical Education
  • And so much more!!

Make a difference in your community! Be a part of the acceptance! Join TOPSoccer!

Jade Parrish, (US Youth Soccer) Marketing and Communications Coordinator.

By: Jade Parrish and Shannon Hartinger

Shannon Hartinger
Shannon Hartinger

US Youth Soccer National TOPSoccer Committee Marketing and Communications TSC TOPSoccer Program Director/Coach Physical Therapist for True North Educational Cooperative 804