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Running to Autism Acceptance

Meet Ethan Spivey: a precious, 6 year old boy, and a member of his school's Cross Country Team.

Cross Country is a sport that revolves around running/racing in open-air courses, and natural environments. Ethan's mom, Nikelyia Lard, reports that not only does he enjoy this sport, but having access to something like this increases his safety.

"Prior to Ethan's official diagnosis, doctors recommended placing Ethan in age appropriate social activities to encourage interaction and speech development. Ethan would run around the house a lot or elope when overstimulated. {Eloping is when someone runs away/wanders from caregivers or secure locations, and can lead to very dangerous situations.} Our first organized run was through Healthy Kids Running Series at age 2 and he enjoyed that a lot. He was able to get the sensory input he needed from running and expend some energy at the same time." --Nikelyia Lard, Mother.

Ethan is Autistic and even though he excels in this sport, he needs reasonable accommodations to be able to participate safely and comfortably. For Ethan, these accommodations consist of wearing sound reduction headphones and having someone run with him to ensure that he doesn't elope, or get lost or hurt due to situational awareness. Nikelyia is not a runner, just a determined Mama who wanted her child to run despite her own health limitations--so she originally was Ethan's running buddy for Cross Country meets. After one meet, where another child was unable to participate because their helper was unable to attend, a very important question came to Nikelyia's mind....

"Should children with disabilities also receive accommodations with school sports to allow them to participate to their fullest potential?"

Nikelyia, who also serves as a Regional Representative with the Autism Society of North Louisiana, posed that question to other ASNLa board members. The answer is a resounding YES!!! According to Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodations should be provided to allow individuals with disabilities the opportunity to participate in school sports and extracurricular activities.

Nikelyia took that information to her child's school system. Stephanie Melton, a school counselor, assisted in finding runners at both Lincoln Preparatory School and Ruston High to Assist Ethan.

When talking with Nikelyia about what having these accommodations means to her and her family, she had this to say:

"Having sports accommodations means that Ethan gets to interact with his peers, compete to the best of his ability, and stay safe. With continued accommodations, there are truly no limits to what he can do in the future."

We couldn't agree more, Nikelyia!!!

Picture features Ethan Spivey and the two awesome individuals that ran with him: Faith Miller and Jayden Gilliam.

Sometimes, advocacy and procedural changes that benefit individuals with disabilities can begin with that question: "Is this accessible for all?" If not, what needs to happen to get there? In many cases, there's already law in place to support your advocacy---but it takes your voice to bring about the changes. This is a wonderful example of how one voice can make a change for many. Never, ever doubt your ability to be a catalyst for positive change!!

Thank you, Nikelyia, for your unwavering advocacy. Ethan, we are so proud of you!

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