Empowering youth with autism to run

The runners will be joined by their families for the last kilometer of the race, and the organizers have called on the general public to come and take part in the run.

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July 6, 2016 02:01
2 minute read.
Tel Aviv beach

Children enjoy a sunny winter day on a Tel Aviv beach. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Some 32 autistic youth have been training to run their very first half marathon this Friday through a unique initiative of Eitan – Anybody Can, which trains autistic youth to run.

The youth – all on the Autism spectrum to varying degrees – will run 22.1 km. from Petah Tikva along the Yarkon River on the Israel Trail and will end at the Tel Aviv Port with a medal and appreciation ceremony.

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The runners will be joined by their families for the last kilometer of the race, and the organizers have called on the general public to come and take part in the run or to help cheer on the participants along the way.

The project and race was initiated by two friends – Yaniv Banyan and Hodel Yehezkel – who began training autistic children in 2015 to exercise and to run, with the aim of developing and enhancing communications, behavior and sports skills through engagement in sports activities.

Leading up to the race, on the group’s Facebook page, Banyan and Yehezhel posted pictures of their training sessions with the runners.

One of them, Omer, has been training for some time for his 5.5 km. leg of the half marathon.

“Running gives him a feeling of freedom and independence,” the group posted.

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Many of the other runners, along with their families, share the same feelings and enthusiasm over participating in the unique initiative.

“We saw situations where parents said: ‘There is no way my child will run,’ and in the end you see the father running with his daughter and you see how proud he is [of her],” the organizers said.

Banyan and Yehezkel were introduced to children with autism through their volunteer activities at an Alut – The Israeli Society for Autistic Children center in Petah Tikva, and quickly realized the potential and desire in the youth to engage in physical activities.

“We don’t expect to hear phrases like ‘I love you,’ we just look at them and know that this is happening, you see them give a half smile and you say [to yourself]: ‘What fun,’” the two friends jointly said.

Dr. Orit Stoler, an expert in child neurology at Alut’s Center for Autism in Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Tzrifin, said: “Children with autism, like anyone else, require physical activity and a sense of purpose that they strive to achieve.

“It is wonderful to see the change in attitude toward autism, when years ago many children like this were hospitalized in psychiatric institutions but today they can integrate in a social and popular trend that is so normal such as running,” she said.

According to Stoler participation is more important than the outcome since it provides them and their families with “a great deal of satisfaction and empowerment.”

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