A fair go on the footy field for all kids

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When Professor Nicole Rinehart watched her kids take up sports, she began to reflect on the difficulties other children might face doing the same thing. As a clinical psychologist working with children with autism and language difficulties, she was acutely aware many children were missing out on extra-curricular sport due to social challenges. Prof. Rinehart was so motivated to drive change she developed plans for an app and website called ALLPlay to make activities such as AFL Auskick more inclusive.

Boys need to kick goals

Prof. Rinehart was particularly interested in a program for boys. ‘Neurodevelopmental disorders affect boys more than girls. Girls walk around at lunchtimes and talk to each other. Boys socialise through play and sport. Boys with autism were missing out on sport,’ Prof. Rinehart explains. ALLPlay provides tools for parents and sports professionals to integrate children into Auskick. Using the ALLPlay app or website, coaches can get more information on supporting children with special needs, and parents can learn how to approach their local Auskick provider.

Many parents of autistic children know their children are vulnerable in social situations and therefore might experience distress. Deakin Associate Professor David Austin is the father of a child with autism and has helped to develop the ALLPlay app content with parents in mind. ‘The idea of Auskick doesn’t even enter the realms of possibility for most parents of kids with autism,’ he says.

‘You worry what others will think when your kid only wants be around sessions – they don’t necessarily want to do the drills and activities – attending Auskick is just a way for them to be among fun and excitement,’ Assoc. Prof. Austin explains. He hopes that with more information for parents and coaches, parents will have the confidence to enrol kids, and children will have an opportunity to socialise in the community.

'Neurodevelopmental disorders affect boys more than girls. Girls walk around at lunchtimes and talk to each other. Boys socialise through play and sport. Boys with autism were missing out on sport.'

Professor Nicole Rinehart,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

It took a long time for Prof. Rinehart to develop her ALLPlay idea. ‘I spent the first three years speaking to anyone who’d listen,’ she recalls. She was about to throw in the towel, but at the eleventh hour, Manny Stul, CEO of Moose Toys recognised the importance of such a program and contributed $1 million to the cause. According to Belinda Gruebner from Moose Toys, it was an important program to support. ‘When we learnt one in five children have a learning difficulty that could lead to them having a disadvantage in life, we felt a duty of care, as a company producing products for children, to act. The practical nature of what ALLPlay will bring to children is simple but incredibly impactful,’ she says.

When Prof. Rinehart added St Kilda Football Club to the list of supporters the club agreed to host a ‘pre-learn’ day, where parents can come along and try the app. According to AFL General Manager of Game and Market Development Simon Lethlean, ‘A critical role of the AFL is to promote inclusion and diversity in Australian Football. When it comes to people with a disability this means having programs to not only promote and enable participation in the sport, but programs to raise awareness across the community,’ he says.

The program is set to launch in March 2017 and Prof. Rinehart is optimistic about what’s to come. ‘In the future we hope to use the ALLPlay model to reach more girls with developmental disabilities – we are now dreaming up ALLPlay Dance,’ she concludes.

Interested in pursuing professional work in the disability, health and community sectors? Explore study opportunities in disability and support at Deakin University. For more information on Prof. Rinehart’s work, visit the ALLPlay website.

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Nicole Rinehart
Nicole Rinehart

Professor of Psychology (Clinical), School of Psychology, Deakin University
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