PBS4 were recently approached by Jack Oughton, Coach of Pace Lionesses U10s girls football team to see if we would sponsor their team. He informed us the team included a young girl with autism, Daisy.
As a non-profit social enterprise, we support our communities, and we felt this team was a great example of inclusion for people with autism, which is aligned to our ambitions.
We spoke to Daisy’s mum, Zoe Williams, to find out more what being part of this team means to Daisy.
Can you tell us a bit about Daisy?
Daisy is a really girly girl. She loves art and anything creative, bizarrely unlike the rest of the family who loathe it she loves retail therapy. Daisy actually isn’t that into sport but I thought it would be good for her to do football. She is however really enjoying this year after a rough season last year.
When was she diagnosed with autism? How was it identified?
I’ve always felt there was something ‘off’ with Daisy (sounds awful to say it like that), but at infant school they said she was too young to tell. I had flagged it several times in year 3 that typical girls didn’t have meltdowns at school but it was a struggle to get this heard. Luckily(?) something as simple as the tuck shop refusing a Gibraltar 50p meant Daisy was inconsolable (literally!) and we were called in as they couldn’t calm her down. I explained that for her if A + B doesn’t equal her expected C she can neither cope or be rational and finally she came under their SENCO (although CAMHS referrals take forever and the diagnosis ever happening was doubtful).
Autism affects Daisy in two main ways. Academically she just cannot focus, and although she causes no trouble and looks attentive, Daisy will hand in a blank sheet at the end of class as she has no idea what she’s meant to do. Daisy is intelligent, but if she hasn’t processed the instruction she just has no idea what is expected of her. Frustratingly after her episode last year they put measures in place to support Daisy to focus. She did so well with these adaptations that they have removed them!! Sadly, Daisy is now going backwards fast, so very frustrated and trying to get these things reinstated
Her social difficulties are what I personally find most distressing. Daisy is either all over people like a rash and too much, or she totally hangs back and doesn’t interact at all. She doesn’t seem to pick up on other people’s body language or expressions at all.
Therefore, our main challenge is friendship. Daisy doesn’t realise this (and I would never want her to), but I’m always trying to arrange parties and sleepovers with lots of Daisy’s friends to ensure she is included and has good friendships (which actually she does, although I know a lot of this is due to my input).
How does Daisy get on with the other teammates at football?
Daisy doesn’t seem to be particularly close to anybody, but is confident around them, which she wasn’t last year. They have now been moved around a bit to make a new team, and it’s only been a few months, so I’m hoping she will fit in well as the signs are better this season. However, if a team mate does say anything bad Daisy very much takes it to heart and we do have lots of tears afterward.
The main difference this season is Daisy feels valued and needed. We have only had one episode of hair chewing and switching off. This was when another player criticised her (unfairly she was following instructions), which was when we had tears afterwards until Daisy finally understood that it was ok.
How has Daisy found being part of a football team? Has it helped her in other ways?
Last football season was her first and it wasn’t a great success, I really wanted her to play to make her communicate, interact and be part of a team. However, her autism coupled with her age made this a real challenge. The league is split into 2 year bands, and as a summer holiday baby if Daisy was a few weeks younger she’d be in the younger band. But her age means many team mates are nearly 2 years older. Daisy was one of the weakest links and she knew it. Her focus didn’t improve and all she did was chew her hair or fingers (her ‘tells’) whilst the game carried on around her.
This season Daisy is in the new development team and the difference has been astounding. I told Jack at the start of the season to never play her for more than 10 mins as that was her focus limit. However, there have been times when the team have had no subs. Daisy has been able to focus for entire games and nearly all the time you would not be aware she has autism. Football wise, it’s like Daisy is a whole different person. Outside of football, her ability to concentrate on school work has also improved. I have noticed Daisy will focus long enough to do her reading or homework which previously just used to trigger epic meltdowns.
Basically, football seems to really help Daisy focus, which has been her biggest issue at school by far. This has been completely transformed this season. Daisy is interacting much more easily with teammates. However, I would say Daisy still struggles a bit socially as she can’t really read social cues due to her autism. I hope that by continuing with the team Daisy’s social skills will continue to develop.