Eskasoni starting a hockey camp for players with autism

·2 min read

ESKASONI — A new hockey training camping focused on meeting the needs of players on the autism spectrum is gearing up to launch Sunday because George (Tex) Marshall wanted a way for his son Kolton to still be involved in autism programing.

“We found that as a parent of a child with autism, that as children with autism get older, opportunities, events and initiatives become more and more limited,” said Marshall.

He wanted his 16-year-old to still be involved in sports because it builds character and helps his son socialize. However, the autism hockey programming offered in Sydney was age-restricted.

The 54-year-old is certified in a national coaching program that specializes in helping coaches be inclusive. And he’s taking that knowledge to start a camp to meet the needs of Mi’kmaq hockey players on the spectrum.

“Will be mindful of sensory issues. Often kids with autism have meltdowns and it's just accepted we'll just work through it — there's no need to allow it to become a traumatic experience,” said Marshall.

Many of the volunteer coaches will have experience working with kids with autism and Marshall hopes it eventually grows. Right now, they have six players signed up.

The camp will run for 15 weeks on Sundays from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. beginning Sunday. It will be open to kids of all ages on the autism spectrum. Marshall said there is a $50 registration fee and the kids will each get a professional-style jersey.

The camp is largely sponsored by the community of Eskasoni. Marshall said a friend is selling tickets to pay for the camp's ice time at the Dan K. Stevens Memorial Arena and they’ve already nearly raised enough.

“Children with autism, the greatest space for them to grow up is in a First Nation community,” said Marshall.

Marshall said his biggest challenge so far has been gaining the trust of parents, but he wanted to assure them it would be a welcoming place. He plans to follow all the safety protocols laid out by Hockey Nova Scotia. Parents dropping off their kids will have to wear a mask and players are expected to come in full gear except for their skates.

He said there are always new challenges when raising a child with autism.

“One thing that you learn as a parent of a child with autism is you need to be flexible," he said. "You need to be understanding and you need to be mindful of their needs."

Marshall is also planning a Christmas party for his players and hopes to start a basketball camp in the future.

“I’m hoping to be seen as not just coaches on the ice but in life as well," said Marshall.

Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post