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For children with autism, playing a team sport is often next to impossible. John Crawley, a well-known member of the Port Washington community, is hoping to change that. Crawley is starting a baseball program for young children, ages 3 to 5, who are high-functioning on the autistic scale. The Children's Athletic Enrichment program (CAE) is a community based program for families raising loved ones with autism. The goal of the program is to introduce children to a typical athletic program, similar to one they could eventually join in later years. It's a program that fosters socialization and prepares kids with autism to participate in mainstream athletic programs.

Crawley sees this program as the missing link for kids with these special needs.

"There is a lot that takes place at home and at school, but what's missing is the athletic portion that also teaches kids to be part of a team," said John Crawley, director CAE. "This program emphasizes gross motor skills and socialization. The social aspect is just as important as the physical part because many kids with autism have trouble communicating with other children. In most cases this will be the first time these children have ever been part of a team," said Crawley.

The program will be supervised by medical and educational experts familiar with autism. Each child will be assessed and must meet certain criteria in order to be part of the program. All participants must be cleared for all chosen activities by a physician prior to enrollment. The goal of the program is to utilize athletics as another way of enhancing the rest of their learning.

Sharon Maizel, a behavioral therapist, has worked with kids with special needs for 11 years. She'll be one of the participants. "This program is very unique because it's incorporating the teaching methods from ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) with gross and fine motor skills. We will be using one step commands, learning through modeling and all of the reinforcement techniques used in special education. Plus it's developing a network for these families," said Maizel.

Karen Feeney, another special educator who will be working with the children says this is a great opportunity. "I believe the true purpose behind any educational program is to teach the skills needed to participate in more typical activities, like a baseball league, summer camp, music camp, etc. If children with special needs are not exposed to such typical experiences then how can we expect them to ever learn how to integrate successfully?" said Feeney.

"I just think it's wonderful and typical of Port Washington to reach out and help the community," said Karen Sloan, a member of the board of education. "One great aspect of this program is that it incorporates educators, parents, siblings and even other children in the community who are going to work with the children," said Sloan.

Sloan's 16-year-old daughter, Jessie, is one of the volunteers who will be working with the trained experts to teach the children the basic skills for baseball. Jessie does a lot of community service and sees this one-on-one program as very important.

"I play sports and I love children so this is the perfect program for me to get involved with. It makes me feel good to help others and I like the feeling of making a difference," said Jessie.

The intention of the program will be to carry ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) skills from one setting to another and incorporate the family and siblings. Registration is under way and it's on a first come, first serve basis. There is a limit of 18 participants. The cost is $60 per session, but the CAE is working to find funds to cover the cost completely. The program will take place Sunday mornings at Lions Field. Each child's progress will be recorded by master's level staff consisting of teachers, adaptive PE teachers, occupational therapists and aids. Vincent Siasoco, M.D. will also participate in the program. Gross-Motor Skills and behaviors will be recorded in participants, Inventory and Developmental Record Book.

Special thanks to SEPTA, The Port Washington Water Pollution Control District, The PYA and sponsors the NY Mets, NY Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones and many others for making this Lion's Club program happen.

"I am hoping this ABA early -intervention sports approach becomes a model for other communities so that this masters-level staffed program can stand on its own across the country," said Crawley.


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