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Albion in the Community celebrates World Autism Awareness Day

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Today is World Autism Awareness Day and we caught up with Zac Macaulay whose son Jack attends our sessions to hear about the fantastic impact football has had on his son.

Jack is one of more than 700,000 people in the UK who has autism – a lifelong condition which can affect how people interact with the world around them. For the last four years he has been taking part in football sessions with Albion in the Community and representing the charity in the Sussex Disability Football League.

He is one of a growing number of players with autism who are benefiting from Albion in the Community’s support – either by attending its inclusive pan-disability football sessions across Sussex, or by taking part in fortnightly training in the dome at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre.

All Albion in the Community sessions have unfortunately been temporarily suspended as part of the wider Covid-19 precautions, with the charity instead offering support to participants over the phone, online and by emailing parents and players weekly football challenges to tackle.

But despite the fact the regular sessions have had to be postponed, Jack’s dad hasn’t lost sight of how much the charity has helped his son in recent years.

He explained: “Jack is a friendly, sociable and well-mannered guy who has issues around communication – particularly the spoken word and understanding meaning.

“Before we found Albion in the Community, he hadn’t had much experience of football or shown much of an interest in it; I think he felt excluded from mainstream football because of his autism.

“Football is now a social link, a shared hobby and experience with others, a means to make new friends and to maintain a high level of physical fitness.

“In the moment during football he is one of the boys and isn’t standing out.”

The way Albion in the Community’s coaches adapt and structure training sessions has certainly helped Jack. Players are split into small groups, based on ability and age. There is also a free play zone and Albion in the Community makes sure its player-to-coach ratio is high; typically, there will be around five coaches at a session attended by 20 players.

The indoor venue also provides Albion in the Community with the perfect environment, with minimal outside distractions, limited pitch markings compared to what would be found on a typical leisure centre sports court, and a viewing area for parents; coaches can even control the temperature and lighting.

“Jack has always been a highly visual learner,” explained his dad. “Once he has been shown something is able to do it well time after time.

“Since he started with Albion in the Community he has really improved his football skills.”

The benefits are not just limited to the football pitch either. A lot of Albion in the Community’s players learn skills during training which the coaches encourage them to take into life off the pitch. That has certainly been the case with Jack.

His dad said: “The competitions and training have added structure to his life and the rapport he has with his coaches has helped improve his listening skills and general teamwork.

“Being involved with Albion in the Community has made him more confident. For example, the confidence he has gained travelling to tournaments and matches has helped him become a seasoned independent traveller.

“The coaches have also shown him how to handle all kinds of people, both easy and difficult, which is a major skill in life.”

Jack’s boosted confidence has also meant he is now able to go to the Amex to watch the Albion with his dad.

“Going to see the Albion has given us yet another layer of interest in both Jack and my lives,” explained his dad. “It means so much to both of us.

“We just want to thank Albion in the Community for taking Jack under its wing.”

Albion in the Community’s football sessions are currently suspended, but to find out more details for when they re-start, email: disability@albioninthecommunity.org.uk.