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An inspiring story of true integration

Posted: 10-Feb-2015 by All Abilities

Integrating Charley Fox, a 13-year-old boy with mild autism, was a brand new initiative for the Junior Carnival. Charley is a fun loving young boy who loves sport and exercise. My role was to stand by Charley at all social and sports events, making sure he was having a good time, he understood the rules, he knew where and when he was supposed to be and that he was integrating with kids his own age. 

The initiative was nothing but a huge success.  Charley participated in all the sports events and 5 out of the 7 night events.  He was lucky to be placed in teams where the kids were extremely patient and inclusive. I watched his basketball team learn to embrace and appreciate Charley over the week. From the beginning, a young boy took Charley under his wing, explaining to him the rules, cracking jokes and doing what friends do, and by the end the entire team was following suit. At the end of the final basketball session, it was nice to see Charley participate in a friendly game orchestrated by the boys, no referees or coaches around. 

Charley and his friend at the neon run event.

Charley's soccer team was filled with a similar group of kind young boys. They were patient with subs, understanding that everyone deserved equal time on the field, including Charley, even though he wasn't the strongest player on the team. During the final soccer match, even though the teams were still playing for 5th and 6th place on the ladder, the players from both sides coordinated for Charley to dribble down the entire length of the field and score a goal. His following celebration put a smile on the face of all who were lucky enough to witness. Charley was so excited and couldn't wait to tell everyone about his success. 

Overall, the level of inclusion by the participants was truly heartwarming. The year 6/7 boys didn't hesitate at all when Charley or I prompted social interaction with them, including a lunch time footy match and an impromptu game of duck duck goose on community day. During the final social event Charley was devastated that he didn't get a chance to say goodbye to the new friends that he had made during the week. Poignantly, I was surprised that he in fact remembered the names of the 'new friends' he wanted to say goodbye to after he had told me on the first day that he had no interest in learning people's names. 

Charley enjoyed meeting new people from all over Australia and New Zealand.

Even more than the sport, Charley loved the night events at carnival. Although he decided not to come to the discos, he thoroughly enjoyed the moonlight cinema, pool party and neon run. At the night events it was harder for him to integrate with the kids; however together we had an extremely good time. I can certainly say that for both Charley and myself the pool party at GESAC was a huge highlight. Charley kept me running around in the water for the entire 2 hours, that's for sure.

For the entire carnival, I was extremely impressed with Charley's level of comprehension and understanding, highlighted by his ability to operate the scoreboard and run the score sheet.  More than anything he liked knowing that he was doing a good job and helping out, whether it be on the sports field or on the score bench. 

Zoe and Charley loved the pool party and having a splash around

I think the tears on Charley's face after the closing ceremony event say enough. He had the time of his life and is already pestering his mum about returning to the carnival in Sydney next year. I believe that even more than having a good time, Charley's inclusion taught the participants an important lesson in disability awareness and integration. Everyone who met Charley loved him and I don't think his participation could have gone any better.

I would like to thank all the volunteers that really supported Charley and I over the week. The entire group of youth leaders truly loved Charley and were happy to play with him, or take care of him if I needed a break. Similarly, I felt really comfortable asking any of the assistant team managers, David Zivin, Dean Kuran and Sharon Kaye, for any assistance. The support of the Victorian team manager David Michelson was also really appreciated. It is no secret that David was really touched by Charley's and the other 'All Abilities' members' inclusion in the carnival. And finally a huge thank-you to Lauren Mandel who orchestrated Charley's participation. Lauren was always there to help if I needed anything and gave me great advice whenever I needed it.

Article written by Zoe Diamond, Melbourne Junior Carnival 2015 Youth Leader
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