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Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Thursday, 20 January 2011
New autism sports scheme launched in Southampton
Launch event
Sports personalities helped the Active Autism scheme

A pioneering project aimed at getting young people with autism involved in sport has been launched in Southampton.

Active Autism - the first scheme of its kind in the south of England - is offering taster leisure activities.

It aims to help people with autism get over what can be an intimidating process in getting involved in sport.

Hampshire Autistic Society said: "Sport enables people with autism to be engaged in activities alongside other people as part of the community."

The scheme offers activities like new age kurling and new age bowling at Chamberlayne Leisure Centre as well as swimming and water zorbing at Bitterne Leisure Centre.

Everyday lives

Andrew Monaghan from the Hampshire Autistic Society said the new scheme would give autistic youngsters the confidence to make sport part of their everyday lives.

"For a youngster whose world around them is full of anxiety, it's difficult to take the first steps," he said.

New age kurling
New age kurling is among the taster activities on offer

Speaking at the celebrity launch event at Chamberlayne Leisure Centre, record-breaking yachtsman Geoff Holt said: "To just get out of their existing surroundings and play with other boys and girls will give them a huge amount of self-confidence and empowerment."

Active Autism is running for an initial six-week trial period, run by Hampshire Autistic Society and sports charity Active Nation with funding from Southampton City Council.

Breeds confidence

Jan Wyeth - whose 10-year-old daughter is on the autism spectrum - said: "It's a controlled way of getting her to socialise. Confidence breeds confidence - hopefully it'll make her more self-confident in other areas."

Ian Deeley who has autism and already regularly goes to a gym said: "I think it's really good. People who are autistic have a chance to show what they can do, enjoy themselves and interact with other people."

Part of the trial will raise awareness of the condition among sports coaches and leisure centre staff.

Andrew Monaghan said: "Training for staff to adapt activities and engage the individual and their families into a whole range of activities will raise understanding reduce that social isolation."

It will also offer respite for parents and carers with a creche to allow them to take part in sporting activities themselves.

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