A Williams Lake mother is overwhelmed with excitement after reaching out for feedback on social media regarding the creation of an alternative, adaptive soccer league in the city for youth.
Crystal Turatus, whose son Liam Hollett, 3, was diagnosed with autism 18 months ago, is the president, volunteers for office manager and is parent navigator with the newly-opened New Horizons Society for Autism and Special Needs in Williams Lake.
Her plea on Facebook garnered 80 responses from Williams Lake parents in just a short amount of time and, within weeks, Turatus had mustered up support from the Williams Lake Youth Soccer Association and Tim Hortons (who is a WLYSA main sponsor) to create a new division which will begin play this May: Differently-Abled Youth Soccer.
Tailored to players ages three to six and to be held at either the Marie Sharpe elementary or Sacred Heart Catholic School fields, Turatus said the play sessions will be low key, consist of small groups of kids and incorporate adapted instruction.
Turatus, a soccer player, herself, said her own frustration through navigating the system, acquiring a diagnosis, and attaining some support funding, coupled with multiple trying experiences with her son’s challenges adapting to various programs in the community across multiple organizations, led to the idea.
Turatus and her mom, Betty Turatus, helped bring what was originally called the New Heights Autism Support Society to Williams Lake in October, however, the Kamloops-based organization closed its doors in December after it decided it was not ready to handle the volume of need in Williams Lake.
“Talking to other parents in town, they found limited services or lengthy waiting lists,” Crystal said. “And it came from a lot of the frustrations I had, along with talking to my neighbour who has a daughter with autism and is over age of six.”
On Dec. 19, Crystal officially opened the New Horizons Society, located next to Woodland Jewellers at 160a Oliver Street.
“We’re an all non-profit society,” she said. “We get money from sponsorships, grants that we write and through individual children’s autism funding. “Parents can get $22,000 in funding until age six then funding drops to $6,000 until their child is 18, but approximately $14,000 goes to the ministry of education after the age of six.”
New Horizons is run by a board of six people, plus Betty, who is the interim executive director and parent advocate.
She explained they can bring their own personal, lived experience in caring for a child with autism or differently-abled to help advocate, mentor, engage, empower and support families to take the lead in their own strategies.
They also assist families in connecting to needed resources within the community, help families navigate waitlists for assessments, funding and services, help with paperwork and familiarize themselves with services and assistance from community resources or bring in the needed resources.
Through New Horizons, a group of behavioural interventionists works with children and youth who have autism or are differently abled to help develop social skills, improve their ability to learn in school, participate in community recreational activities and to help reduce negative or disruptive behaviours.
They also offer one-on-one sessions designed for each, unique child, which can take place at the centre, child’s home, childcare facility or recreational facility. They also host music with LeRae Haynes on Mondays from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and are starting a youth art program with local artists Dwayne Davis, Sarah Sigurdson and Tiffany Jorgensen, plus other artists from the community, in the near future. Adaptive yoga classes are also offered by instructors Kelsey Kopp and Tara Delisle. Sessions are in small groups so registration is required.
“All children are welcome to come hang out here with their parents, they can come join a social group, we have workshops with Autism BC and we do monthly meetings, monthly paint nights, have had two-day workshops in the past — the last one on the weekend had 20 people registered.”
Differently-Abled Youth Soccer, meanwhile, is a program Crystal hopes will strengthen skills for differently-abled youth in a fun, outdoor, low key recreational setting.
“Last month I saw on Facebook youth soccer registration was available and I’d posted asking what the interest is,” Crystal said. “I just thought there might be other parents out there interested in low key, low sensory soccer and it was insane what the response was.”
She said groups will be split into no more than 12 players per field/time slot in order to keep youth engaged and not overwhelmed.
“I asked Betty if we could do this and WLYSA reached out and we’re really excited to get going,” Crystal said, noting children who sign up will get a jersey, ball, medal and team photo, the same as all divisions through WLYSA.
“We’ll have volunteer coaches, including myself, but we will need people watching the gates because if Liam decides he wants to chase butterflies today then that [volunteer] is going to chase butterflies. But we’ll do dribbling, drills, and we’re not going to force kids to play soccer.
“The main idea is they are out of the house socializing. That’s what I’m most concerned about.”
Differently-Abled Youth Soccer is slated to start at the beginning of May and run until youth soccer wraps up on June 25 once a week.
Crystal also said beginning Feb. 12 and sponsored by Autism BC, the New Horizons Society for Autism and Special Needs will be offering a free parent support group from 6 to 8 p.m. The support group will run on the second Wednesday of every month and cover a different topic each week. Free childminding will be provided.
Differently-Abled Soccer registration forms are available at the New Horizons Society for Autism and Special Needs. Or, interested parents can e-mail Crystal at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $45 for early registration up until Feb. 15, $55 until March 15 and late registration is $65 after March 16.
For more information on the NHS or the soccer program call 250-392-3944.