Promoting the Inclusion and Participation of Individuals with ASD In Sport: Evaluation of Online Coach Education

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In 2016, the Victorian Government released the findings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) living in Victoria. The inquiry specifically reported on barriers to social inclusion, community participation, and access to equitable sports and recreation opportunities for people with ASD. The inquiry found that:

  1. people with ASD may have difficulty participating in sport and active recreation due poor motor skills and coordination, lack of understanding of social and sporting rules, high anxiety, challenging behaviours and sensory issues
  2. sport coaches and volunteers may lack general awareness of ASD and how to support people with ASD, and
  3. there are limited activities and programs on offer for people with ASD

Collectively, these factors prevent many people with ASD from participating in sport and active recreation. The inquiry also found that these barriers, and in particular the lack of awareness of ASD in the community, have left individuals with ASD and their family members socially isolated.

Several Australian sport organisations are currently providing online coach education to enhance the capacity of sport coaches to work effectively with people with ASD. Online coach education, or e-learning, occurs via online electronic media, typically the internet, and it provides a platform for coaches to engage with important topics such as equity and inclusion. In relation to ASD, for example, online coach education explores the characteristics of autism, and evidence- based strategies for supporting people with autism. Online education may be beneficial in comparison to traditional face- to-face models of coach education, including scalability (it can be delivered to a larger number of people irrespective of their location), consistency (the material is presented in the same way to all coaches), and reduced cost.

This mixed-method research explored the quality and accessibility of several online coach education courses, how coaches are translating their new learnings into their coaching practice, and the impact of online coach education on the participation and social inclusion of individuals with ASD.

The results of this evaluation demonstrate how four Australian sports organisations are directly addressing identified barriers to social inclusion, community participation, and access to sports and recreation opportunities for people with ASD. We found that these organisations are providing accessible, high quality education to coaches and other professionals about ASD, and how to better support people with ASD in the context of sport.

Through our review of the research, our evaluation the courses, and our analysis of the responses to our survey from coaches, athletes, and families of athletes, we concluded that online coach education appears to be an effective and scalable strategy for building the capacity of coaches to support athletes with ASD in sport and active recreation across Australia.