Trying to get my youngest daughter involved in any type of sport has always been a big challenge.
Savanna suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has OCD tendencies, which makes her very anxious and causes her to over-analyse almost everything. For several years eating out as a family wasn’t possible because she was scared of germs, she was disruptive at school and at home, and she is terrified of travelling anywhere on a train after reading about a train crash a long time ago. Any outing had to be meticulously planned, and we couldn’t go anywhere without Savanna carrying an antibac with her to help manage her fear of becoming ill.
When I first started taking part in parkrun, I noticed how many young people were participating and that there were lots of families running and walking. I wondered if this was something that Savanna and I could do together, so I encouraged her to come along. She was very unsure the first couple of times because the parkrun we went to had large numbers of people, but when Livingston parkrun launched in our home town we decided to give it a try.
Savanna and I went along as volunteers, and when she saw a young girl about her age taking part she decided she wanted to do parkrun too! Savanna is very competitive and does get frustrated if she’s not doing as well as she would like, but that’s all forgotten the moment she hears the support and encouragement of other runners and volunteers shouting her name.
The impact of parkrun on our family has been significant. Running is something that Savanna can do with her school friends, it gets her into the fresh air and away from TV and the iPad, and as a result she is less anxious and in better moods. When she was seven years old she had a poor body image, which was really distressing for someone so young, but running has drastically improved this.
Because she feels more positive about herself, she is much more caring and forgiving of others. This is really important, not least because there are other children at our local parkrun who also have learning difficulties.
There are various degrees of ASD and every child is different, but I would encourage other parents in a similar position to check out the website of their local parkrun to find out about the route, the average number of participants and any other useful information. If you’re still unsure, speak to one of the volunteers or someone else who takes part.
It’s so important to show young people that physical activity and being healthy can be fun, and parkrun has helped our family to do this because it is something we can all do together.
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