An Underdog Story: SAAAC’s All Star Multi-Sports Program

Posted on: June 1st, 2017 by SAAAC No Comments

Young boy shooting basketball waiting to see if it goes into net

Rathushan took one dribble and then took his shot. The ball danced around the rim and finally dropped. Applause and cheers erupted from staff and volunteers who were watching him. Rathusan was flooded with high fives and praise. He had scored his first basket. It had taken him four months.

There are no such things as small accomplishments in SAAAC’s All Stars Multi Sports Program, an ability appropriate sports program aimed at children and youth with autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how the brain develops and functions. One in 68 Canadian children are diagnosed with autism every year. The social, communication and behaviour problems that are characteristic of the autism can make learning and joining organized sports a struggle. Also, many children with autism find certain sports to be emotionally and socially challenging as they involve following complicated rules and interacting with many children all at once.

“We searched for a long time to find a program like this,” said Rathy, Rathushan’s mother of the All Stars program. “Rathushan cannot take part in many sports programs because they don’t take into consideration some of his challenges. Here at SAAAC, the activities are made simple and the volunteers and staff understand how to work with my son.”

physical educator helping student with push-ups in fitness class geared towards children and youth with autism

The All Stars program, made possible by GoodLife Kids Foundation and RBC Learn to Play Project, provided children (ages 6-12) with regular physical activity opportunities, focusing on the development of fundamental movement skills and exposing students to a range of sports activities.

child kicking soccer ball towards the net

Initially, Rathushan did not take a liking to the program. He had never taken part in recreational programming before and found the activities overwhelming. Sometimes he would get so overwhelmed he would cry the entire session or lash out at his volunteers. But, with experienced program staff and a passionate group of volunteers, who were specifically trained to work with children with autism, Rathushan was able to slowly integrate into the program.

“Initially, he found the program very difficult,” says David Pararajan, one of the program’s 20 volunteers. “But as we broke down a sport activity into individual steps and made our goals more in line with Rathushan’s skillset, we were able to see progress.”

Rathushan and his volunteers spent weeks becoming comfortable with fundamental movement skills (agility, balance, coordination, jumping, running), and then slowly worked up to learning basketball. Through positive reinforcement and praise, staff and volunteers helped Rathushan become engaged with the activity for longer periods of time. Then they worked on simple passing and dribbling exercises. Soon, Rathushan began shooting the ball.


“I remember the first time Rathushan first tried to shoot the basketball into the net without any prompting from volunteers,” said David with a smile. “That was one of the happiest days of my life! That showed me that he began to understand the concept of the game and what he had to do with his body to make that goal possible.”

One month later, Rathushan would score his very first basket all by himself.

“I remember I cried a bit on my way home,” Rathy remembers fondly. “I was proud of my son. He worked extremely hard, despite some of his challenges, to push himself and learn a new skill. It showed me my son was learning, that he was connected with the world. It might have been a very small accomplishment to some, but to me it meant the world.”

student in fitness class jumping off fitness step platforms

Photo Credits: Nvmikaa Photography

Special Thanks to Our Program Funders

GoodLife Kids Foundation RAISES FUNDS to support national, provincial and local programs that provide sustainable physical activity opportunities for kids and remove some of the barriers currently holding children back from living a healthy life. To date GoodLife Kids Foundation has impacted the lives of over 240,000 Canadian kids through physical activity opportunities.

The RBC Learn to Play Project supported programs that help kids become healthy, happy and active for life. Through the RBC Learn to Play project, RBC, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, has donated $6.3 million to 596 organizations over 3 years.

Logos of RBC Learn 2 Play Project and Goodlife Kids Foundation - these are our program funders for the multi-sports program which is geared towards children and youth with autism