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How An Association Created a Hockey Program for Autistic Skaters

By Wayne Capes, 08/03/23, 11:15AM EDT


Initiative featured therapists and support workers

By Wayne Capes, President of the Oshawa Community Hockey League


The OCHL went through changes last season as we celebrated our 75th Anniversary.  This included our name change from Oshawa Church Hockey League to Oshawa Community Hockey League.

Our goal is to connect and develop stronger ties within our community. As part of that, we were looking for things we could do in our community while making awareness of the fun and inclusiveness that minor hockey brings.

With some of our volunteers having connections to the autism community, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to help introduce the game that we love so much to children who may never have had the participate. Our friends at Goals and Dreams supplied equipment for the 23 children registered and the City of Oshawa was able to supply us with ice.

We rolled out a pilot program that featured six one-hour ice times to see what the response would be from both the skaters and the community. The first week was a meeting at the arena to introduce the kids and families to the sounds and atmosphere of a rink.

“Joining a hockey team can be very overwhelming for a child. Things like being in a new environment, loud unpredictable noises, crowded change rooms, wearing equipment for the first time, the fear of falling, and how each individual learns best are not always considered,” said a Lake Ridge Community Support Services Clinical Manager. “We wanted to provide an opportunity where all of these factors were considered in a supportive and inclusive environment for children to get on the ice and try a new sport.  The purpose of this program was to provide an opportunity for autistic children to try a new sport, in hopes they would come to love it and feel comfortable and confident enough to join a team in the future. “

The program was offered for free to the first 23 players that meet the criteria laid out by the trained therapist involved. It took less than a day for the program to be filled.

We had many volunteers which included some of our House League players and coaches. The therapist volunteers were on ice to deal with any behaviours that needed their professional skills.

“I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the opportunity provided to children with autism, to learn some fundamental skills in a safe, individualized and supportive environment,” said one of the therapists. “The growth over four short weeks, and sometimes within the same hour, was amazing to see! And the parents beaming with pride as they watched their kids navigate a new experience! One of my best memories is watching a non-skater make it across the rink by the end of his first session. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this amazing program!”

I'm pleased to tell you that the experience was amazing, as the players caught on quickly and they developed at an amazing pace in such a short period of time.  

We had two players join the regular development skating program, which shows how the program can help bring in new players to our game.

“Personally, this was the first time I was able to use the skills and knowledge from my profession/field of work in the community to support children with a sport I love and played throughout my childhood,” said the Lake Ridge Community Support Services Clinical Manager. “It was extremely humbling to be able to support these children in getting out of the ice and seeing just how much progress they made over a short period of time.”

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