Survey shows 59% of young Donegal people with ASD less active during lockdown

Survey shows 59% of young Donegal people with ASD less active during lockdown

Sports Inclusion Disability Officer, Therese Laverty.

A survey assessing the impact of Covid-19 on physical activity levels of children aged 5-17 years with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) residing in Donegal has revealed that while 41 per cent had increased their activity, 59 per cent had become less active.

Giving her reaction to the result of the survey commissioned by Donegal Sports Partnership, Sports Inclusion Disability Officer, Thérèse Laverty, said: “The most alarming thing was that only 17 per cent were meeting the current physical activity recommendations for children. The access to the programmes just has not been there since the Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in March. Some people with a disability are considered an at-risk category, they can’t participate at the levels until it’s safe to do so.”

Government guidelines recommend that children and young people (2-18) should be active at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 60 minutes every day.

“Specific to disability, children and adults with a disability should aim to be as active as their disability allows and aim to meet the guideline for their age group, if possible. The hope is that those who are physically active are reaching the levels of the children who don’t have a disability,” she added.

As a response to the Covid-19 restrictions and taking into consideration the survey findings, Donegal Sports Partnerships looked at practical ways of delivering the courses online.

“We decided to work with Paul Smyth Inclusive Health and Fitness. Paul has delivered a number of programmes for us in the past, so he has disability experience behind him. We agreed to deliver a fun initiative which all of the family could get involved in.”

The programmes are free and open to families with a member with a disability. The two weekly 30 minute sessions are being delivered over four weeks via Facebook Live on a private group. A new family challenge is introduced each week.

“The private Facebook page allows families to interact and also affords them the opportunity to post up pictures of their children doing their exercises and interact with other families. The aim is that it caters for all abilities, so there should not be anybody who can’t participate in the programme as it’s completely inclusive. It seems to be going really well. We had 25 families join up which, for disability programmes, is unusual. It shows us that there is a need for inclusive programmes.” she added.

“It’s all about adaptability and being able to change at any time to suit the needs and abilities of all participants. We don’t focus on what people can’t do, but on what people can do.”

The Sports Ability Forum in Donegal has also had to change with the times over recent months.

“Traditionally the meetings are held in a room with people around a table. So we had our first Zoom meeting recently and it was extremely successful as we were able to involve the national organisations,” the Sports Inclusion Disability Officer explained.

“Dyspraxia Ireland were able to join us from Dublin and the FAI Football for All were represented nationally as well. We had up to 20 organisations participate in the meeting with all the focus around provision of sport and recreational physical activity for people with a disability.

“We were able to discuss the wider provisions for families with a family member with a disability and also how Covid-19 had impacted on their families and groups. So, while there have been loads of negatives around Covid-19, there have been positives for us as well such as using the online programmes which is bringing people together.”

She said Donegal Sports Partnership is also aware that there are families that do not have access to the internet and the online programmes.

“We are constantly looking at alternatives for delivery. We have a number of adults and children who are involved in the handcycling programme. We have just purchased ten table top-hand exercise trainers. We hope to distribute them this week so they can keep training. The plan is to bring them back over time when it is safe in small numbers.”

Donegal Sports Partnership has compiled a list of online sports inclusion resources aimed at helping participants and families access online sport and physical activity programmes, session, games and ideas to help keep people active. This list includes Special Olympics Ireland, Change4Life, Wheely Good Fitness, Wheel Power, Cara Centre, Eye Free Fitness, Vision Sports Ireland and IWA Sport Best Start-Inclusive Schools Programme. All the information can be accessed via Donegal Sports Partnership’s Covid-19 activity hub: https://activityhub.

“There seems to have been a lot of thought and effort put in by all the organisations and there is something for everybody in the programmes,” she commented.

“As much as possible, we will encourage people to get active and get healthy, be that with their families until it is safe to do so with their peer groups.”

The Disability Awareness in Sport workshop is now available online. Information on the workshop is available on the following link training/disability-awareness- in-sport-workshop-2/  

Meanwhile, an online fun moves programme is the latest initiative the Sports Inclusion Disability Officer has designed in collaboration with Move2gether and ICARE.

“The fun moves programme aims to develop fundamental movement skills and to improve gross motor skills. This will be done through short videos, games and challenges posted weekly to a private online Facebook group. The programme is open to children and young people aged 7 to 17 years,” she explained.

Online bookings can be made via the link below.


After the booking is processed the an invite will be emailed to join the private Facebook group. Both the workshop and the programme are free of charge.


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