WINGMAN – a sports inclusion program
WHAT IT IS
There are many facets to autism. Those aspects of the condition that present as anti-social or physically uncoordinated can result in a child being excluded from sporting or civic youth activities. While many organizations have a philosophy of inclusion for children with autism and related conditions, they lack an easy framework to train staff and allow for totally inclusive participation.
The Wingman program makes it easy for clubs and organizations to achieve inclusion. Designed for easy integration into an existing team, club, school or youth organization, the Wingman program lets clubs and organizations meet all children where they are, identify their strengths, and foster a sense of confidence in all participating individuals to develop camaraderie and community. It’s a program based on leadership principles, peer modeling and developing awareness. By instilling basic leadership principles in all members, Wingman-certified clubs dissolve the “us” and “them” barrier by making it every child’s responsibility to treat one another kindly—not just the child with autism. In so doing, all children there become “Wingmen.”
HOW IT WORKS
Organizations will formally register for the Wingman Leadership program, submitting details of their own program such as number of participants, coaches and volunteers, as well as the club’s existing inclusion philosophy. The program will be delivered to them through a combination of video tutorial and printed material – supplied by the foundation free of charge.
Once registered and trained, participating Wingman organizations can purchase recognition material for their members as needed, including logo t-shirts, wristbands and pins. This merchandise will be subsidized by the Foundation to encourage maximum participation. Ordering is managed online directly by the organization once registration for the program is complete.
Ongoing support for Wingman participation will be provided to the club through a network of expert speakers enabled to meet free of charge with youth leaders, present overview material on autism and related conditions and take Q&A. These speakers are also funded by the Foundation to maximize participation and success.
In addition to giving your team the tools needed to ensure that all children can participate, certified Wingman organizations will be acknowledged on our website’s online directory, giving parents of children with autism assurance they will find a welcoming and inclusive environment for their child. Wingman organizations will also be able to promote their Wingman certification on their own web sites and promotional materials using a library of logos and assets we provide.
The Wingman Leadership program will begin piloting in April 2014 at selected sports clubs in Western Connecticut. Pre- and post-implementation data collection will be carried out on autism awareness and participant feedback. During the pilot phase we will be reaching out to Major League sporting organizations and their equivalents to showcase the Wingman program and seeking their input and support in finalizing the design. We anticipate formal program launch by fall of 2014.
Ongoing, our vision is that major sporting organizations rally behind the Wingman program and accelerate its nationwide implementation. Please visit this page in the months ahead for updates.
WINGTECH – an assistive technology program
WHAT IT IS
Personal devices and mobile technology have revolutionized the way we interact with our world and each other. Without question, the ability of technology to assist and improve the lives of children with autism and related disorders is profound.
However, most evidence proving the effectiveness of technology among special needs children is anecdotal in nature. Without hard data proving the effective use of hi-tech tools in educating children with autism—and without readily available blueprints for schools to deploy and use IT in their special needs programming—corporations have been slow to gift assistive technology to schools, where it’s arguably needed most.
The WingTech program addresses this gap with a comprehensive IT solution that can be implemented in an individual school or throughout an entire school district. By partnering with a major IT firm to design this solution, the goal of WingTech is to support the autism research community through targeted grants. Specifically, these grants will help researchers, educators and parents identify and deploy appropriate technologies to assist children with autism.
HOW IT WORKS
The WingTech solution, still in development, will be multi-phase. Each phase will be grant-funded by the Foundation:
Phase 1: Selection of schools and staff to participate in the WingTech program, including teachers, aides and specialists.
Phase 2: Benchmark assessment of staff skills and inventory of existing equipment
Phase 3: Implementation of training programs tailored to staff needs
Phase 4: Purchase and deployment of new equipment for staff use with students
Phase 5: Ongoing user support for two years
Leveraging the special-needs education faculties at several Connecticut universities, WingTech solution design will begin by 2Q14. Schools will be invited to take part in the pilot trials starting in September 2014, and run through the academic year. Full WingTech program rollout will take place beginning in 2015.
Schools that participate in the WingTech pilot program—and those that apply for WingTech grants as the program evolves—will gain access to important research, training and technology to assist their students with autism and related conditions.
WINGPLAY – an inclusion sports directory and grant program
WHAT IT IS
Many organizations provide sports programs tailored to children with autism. The best of these incorporate clinical expertise with quality coaching (and a strong complement of assistants) to give close attention to each child and their specific needs. Some use sports as a means to provide social and academic learning opportunities. They are available as extra-curricular and/or after-school programs, or as full summer camps. The sports activities involved are wide ranging, from tennis to surfing, yoga to horse riding.
The WingPlay program is designed specifically to promote the awareness and accessibility of these programs by doing the following:
- Creating an interactive directory of existing programs across a particular state. We will research existing programs, their operating schedule and offerings. We will create an online, map-based directory that can be filtered by age range, ability, sports offering and other criteria. NOTE: This directory will also record those organizations that have implemented the Wingman Leadership program.
- Providing grant funding to autism-dedicated sports programs. On a case-by-case basis, WingPlay will help autism-dedicated sports programs expand into new locations, offer their services at reduced cost to families, or provide better services by employing additional clinical or coaching expertise.
- Holding joint fundraising events with organizations. Organizations that require modest funds to promote awareness of their program can leverage the DWoC community.
HOW IT WORKS
The WingPlay directory is currently in development. For information about applying for a WingPlay grant or hosting a joint fundraising event, please contact [phone number/email address].
Just as the Unified Sports program developed by Special Olympics gives additional opportunities for children with autism to participate in activities, we believe that the WingPlay program—in concert with Wingman initiative—enables more children with autism and related conditions to be fully included in the social learning that is inherent in sports play. Our ultimate goal is to make it as easy as possible for as many children as possible to fully participate in local sports programs.
“All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney