The story of Sports Plus begins with its founding by two parents in their passionate quest to realize physical and social potential that might otherwise stay dormant for a lifetime in their son and many others similar to him. The story has now continued for over eighteen years, and even during an unprecedented pandemic. More than 5,000 families have taken part in our programs. The difference and impact of Sports Plus is best captured by the words of the families it serves.
Here is what some of them had to say:
... most of the extracurricular activities he had attended were for neurotypical kids. For those swimming classes, M was not happy about the way the coaches were correcting him and he refused to go to the deep pool because he could not touch the bottom. .... At Sports Plus, I'm amazed by their ability to adjust their approach to meet the unique needs of my child. Before our first session ... Natalie called me to discuss M's needs and ask for advice regarding what methods work best for him. ... They seems to find a balance that allows M to feel comfortable and make progress at the same time. We cannot wait for the next session. I love to picture one day our whole family swimming happily in the ocean!
Vivien (M's Mom)
My name is Sam B and I am 21 years old. I have been participating with Sports Plus for more than 10 years. I really like Sports Plus because they taught me to become a better swimmer, and I have made a lot of friends. I really like being on Swim Team because I love doing the friendly races and swimming a lot of laps. I have become stronger. The friends that I have made at Sports Plus are really nice, funny, and fun to hang out with. The teen (and young adult) socials are fun because we do a lot of fun activities like going to the bowling alley, museums, bakery, mini golf and Madison Fields Farm on Halloween. We got to dress up the miniature horses on the farm. During COVID we were not able to do most teen (and young adult) socials in person, but we got to do a lot of fun things on Zoom like karaoke and a New Years' Dance Party.
Sam B (participant)
... as parents, we love the focus on physical and mental wellness and health embedded into every event. The exercise and mindfulness elements have a benefit for hours and days after events, and the new skills and memories will help encourage a lifetime of fitness. Thanks again to both of you for your leadership in this complex and challenging endeavor. It brings tremendous good to our family and the lives of many other families throughout the region.
Julie and Matt (N's parents)
I want to thank you and your entire team for such beautiful and entertaining classes, my son is so happy and has so much enthusiasm to participate, thank you, thank you to everyone who makes this program possible! Your programs are a Godsend to families!
- G's Mom
"As I watch my special needs son on his first day of 3rd grade participate in distance learning, I can see all of the skills he learned while having fun with Sports Plus virtual online camp this summer. He has learned how to use the needed technology for his classes, how to appropriately participate during a video call, and his core strength has improved to let him sit comfortably for the entire class time. My son learned all of these important skills while playing games, participating in virtual field trips, enjoying crafts and science projects, eating lunch as a group, and doing challenging workouts each day. The workouts especially have improved my son's confidence in himself and his ability to tolerate directions for challenging tasks. At the beginning of the first week of camp, he struggled to perform a jumping jack correctly and had to break many of the exercises down into separate steps and do modified versions. By the third week of camp, my son could properly do all of the exercises for the entire 45 minutes and his pride in his hard work and increase in confidence showed in the smile on his face each day. .... Especially during this time of isolation and distance learning, it is important for families to have a place to see our kids thrive and learn how to help them in this new virtual and online world."
- W's Mom
"As an Olympian who understands the incredible value that youth sports can provide to children, I was alarmed that so few programs existed for children with autism. This topic is so important that it became the focus of my doctoral studies. I selected Sports Plus for my dissertation research because it is truly one of a kind and I wanted to learn how they are able to succeed when so many other organizations seeking to serve children with autism have failed.
... The program structures and methodologies foster trust with the parents and children alike, develop motor skills, social skills, and a sense of belonging, while offering a fun experience that reduces anxiety.
... One of the core strengths of Sports Plus is their belief in the importance of adjusting their approach to meet the unique needs of each individual child, and their ability to do just that. This flexible mindset has allowed Sports Plus to quickly and effectively pivot to online programming after COVID-19 prevented in person meetings.
... The ability of Sports Plus to continue serving their families is critical during the current pandemic. These families have come to count on Sports Plus as a foundation for their children to grow and flourish. I observed an online program recently and was impressed by their ability to engage the participants through continuing their existing relationships at an individual level."
"My son is 21 now and attends college in Maryland, but he continues to be an active participant in the social and fitness programs at Sports Plus which are designed for teens and young adults. This summer, when all of us were forced to be stay at home due to Covid, Sports Plus gave him an opportunity to socialize with his friends through their virtual social events and stay fit through their virtual fitness program. Their coaches were great in keeping all the participants engaged even through virtual instruction.
The value and need of Sports Plus to families who have children with special needs cannot be emphasized enough. The services that Sports Plus provides are even more vital especially during these challenging times. I hope that Sports Plus continues to expand and provide these much needed services to our children. A special thanks to Natalie and Tom Liniak for their selfless devotion to this cause."
- S's Dad
"... Dominic's primary challenge is navigating social situations that come naturally to most of us. Being able to participate in an activity that allows him to watch and learn social cues from typically developing peers is very valuable and do not come along very often.
... When the pandemic hit, Sports Plus showed remarkable resilience. It was no longer safe to do swimming lessons, engage in soccer or track programs or to gather for teen socials. But Sports Plus was able to pivot to an online environment. ... Remarkably, they have developed innovative techniques that have been able to engage and hold the attention of Dominic and his peers through a computer screen, for sessions that extend up to two and a half hours.
... There are lots of online activities for kids, but few are geared towards ASD kids. ... other programs in the area have been discontinued or they have not developed an online alternative. The Sports Plus programs work for Dominic at time when they are even more critical for families. I'm not aware of any alternatives.
... "Sports Plus has taken on some of the most complex Autism Spectrum issues by moving beyond text books to the “real world”. Their innovative athletic classes, for instance, teach skills such as swimming or soccer on a level that the child on the spectrum can understand and process."
- D's Dad
"Having a child with multiple needs, is not an easy path to be on. Despite his interest the sport of swimming seemed to outgrow my son. I was heartbroken...until I found Sports Plus . They alone were able to offer the very specialized instruction he needed and meet his needs. After a year of work with Sports Plus, he was able to swim on his summer swim team and swim competitively with a neurotypical swim team completely independently. This all happened because of Sports Plus. You gave my child so much strength, encouragement, support and skills that he was able to achieve the impossible. I cannot thank Sports Plus enough for that. With Sports Plus, the sky is the limit for my son and others like him and the path I have to travel is shining a little brighter. The impossible can become possible with Sports Plus!"
- H’s Mom
"My son is involved with the Sports Plus swim program and teen socials. For parents with disabled kids, this program is a Godsend. My son relates well with adults, however giving him an age appropriate social outlet has been next to impossible. He just isn’t able to keep up with “typical” peers. Their conversations move too quickly, they are physically much stronger than he is, and his differences make it hard for him, and other kids, to want to spend time together. Sports Plus offers a typical outlet (rock climbing, putt putt golf, bowling…) for non typical kids with supervision. He absolutely loves the activities. My son has a non-disabled brother (14 months his junior) who has numerous social outlets through school, friends, etc… that he just doesn’t have. The Sports Plus team gives him the chance to be a regular kid, meeting and playing with others who have similar limitations, doing things that teenagers like to do. To be honest, without Sports Plus, I’m not sure where we would ever would have found this outlet for my son."
- S’s Dad
"My son is 15 years old and quite honestly, has NEVER had more than a couple kids come over to the house in his whole life. It is not that my son doesn’t want to have friends; he yearns to have friends but has never been in social situations where he can feel comfortable and successful and learn. Sports Plus has tackled this issue by providing frequent social gatherings that include both neurotypical kids as volunteers and kids with special needs. In this setting, my son feels comfortable and part of the fun/gang where he can reach out to other children and know that he will be supported in doing so."
- B's Dad
For the past eight years, I have been fortunate enough to volunteer with Sports Plus. I started volunteering with their swim program when I was in high school, giving private lessons to both children and young adults with autism. .... I have had the privilege to work with many participants and to watch them grow and fluorish within the program ... and I firmly believe that the support and encouragement they received from Sports Plus is a major factor in helping them get to that point. Their love for the program is clear every time they participate in a Sports Plus event.
Alexandra (swim teacher who is now in medical school)