Making a difference

Ryan Cooke
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Active Start helping disabled children through sports

TRURO – Wesley runs around the yard, kicking a soccer ball and chasing after his sister and the neighbour girl. An Indiana Jones-style hat shields the burning afternoon sun from his face as the kids yell and scream like children do.

Wesley Schnare celebrates after booting his soccer ball into a net in his backyard. Wesley, 4, has autism. Through Active Start, Wesley has found a way to better interact with children, even becoming interested in joining a minor soccer team

His parents, Greg and Anne Schnare, watch the kids while sitting on patio furniture outside.

“Emma, be careful!” Anne calls to her daughter as she runs near her brother on the swings.

This is all relatively new for the little guy, just four years old. It wasn’t long ago, Wesley wouldn’t kick a soccer ball for fear of hurting its feelings, and he wouldn’t have as much tolerance for the excited squeals coming from the two girls.

Wesley has autism, a neural development disorder. Much like healthy children, no two autistic kids are alike, Anne points out. It is a spectrum disorder – meaning the symptoms and sensitivities lie on a broad range of differences. Some children fixate on specific tasks. Others are easily agitated and have difficulty dealing with anger. Things like loud noises and colours, on the other hand, upset Wesley.

“He has his setbacks,” Anne said. “There are some days where he doesn’t want to play or be around other kids much.”

Wanting to do something to get their son active, the Schnares decided to bring Wesley to Active Start – a program started by Special Olympics Nova Scotia in conjunction with Cobequid Special Olympics, which runs every Tuesday evening at Douglas Street Rec Centre. Designed for kids between the ages of two and six, the program presented a place where Wesley could go and make new friends, while staying active.

It wasn’t easy for little Wes, as his father calls him.

“When he first went, he didn’t really play or interact,” Anne said. “He just kind of stood around the sidelines and watched other kids.”

At the urging of Greg’s coworker, Richard Haines – the regional coordinator for Special Olympics Nova Scotia – they tried again, and again. Over time, Wesley began to change.

Where he was afraid to kick a ball before, he now saw it for what it was – fun. Where loud noises once bothered him, he was now more accepting.

“The volunteers have been great. They are all so patient and helpful with the kids,” Greg said.

“They helped show Wesley that it was OK to kick the ball, that it was fun,” Anne added. “And that it was okay for the kids to make noise in the gym, because they are happy noises.”

Active Start began in Truro three years ago for children with intellectual disabilities. In the time since, Haines and a group of dedicated volunteers have grown it from four to 30 kids and two physiotherapists. The kids go through various sports with the focus on developing motor skills, as well as social skills.

It’s not only a learning curve for the children, but the parents as well.

“We’ve learned with Wesley, and with Emma too, that the best way to get them interested in things is to be patient with them, and helpful,” Greg said. “Just let them do it their own way. They’ll figure it out one way or another.”

Working with volunteers, therapists and other children, Active Start has helped Wesley become a team player. He’s taken a keen interest in sports, and will join a soccer team this summer. Sports have allowed him to make friends, an action he took all on his own.

His mother understands the frustration her son can feel, but wants other parents to know it gets easier.

“If at first it doesn’t work out, then keep going back and trying, because it will.”




Organizations: Special Olympics Nova Scotia, Cobequid Special Olympics, Douglas Street Rec Centre

Geographic location: Truro

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