Athlete – KEEN Greater DC-Baltimore (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now)
El’iyah is like any 6-year-old boy in that he wants to play, have fun and be loved and accepted, but El’iyah has autism complicating his world and making these things harder to achieve and receive outside of his family. He is nonverbal and makes up some of his own gestures to communicate, so socializing is hard. Understanding what he wants and needs can be a challenge. He also has a bit of anxiety and is prone to clinging to where he feels safe. That said, his family and school have noticed a change over the past year, so much so that his school gave him an award this spring for Most Improved Social Skills.
El’iyah has been a part of KEEN since the fall of 2016, and his mother, Alisha, attributes some of his social skills development to his participation in KEEN. “KEEN is his only opportunity to socialize. The rest of his time is spent at school and with therapists and family,” says Alisha. At KEEN, El’iyah is paired one-to-one with a volunteer coach for a 75-minute session focused on playing at El’iyah’s speed and in his way, using a variety of sports equipment and toys—balls, indoor bowling pins, scooters, tunnels, hand puppets, etc. While the kids who participate in and the core volunteers who manage and oversee El’iyah’s KEEN Sports program are generally the same throughout the year, the individual coaches who work one-to-one with the kids are, typically, different from session to session. This means El’iyah socializes with new people from session to session, and that has been helping him develop his skills, says Alisha. She has noticed that El’iyah’s eye contact is getting better and that her already happy kid is happier. “He is increasingly letting more people into his world,” she says.