Since arriving in Piedmont in 2021, Piedmont Recreation Department’s Recreation Supervisor Eva Phalen has overseen a wide range of activities for children, teens, and older adults. One project that’s been keeping her busy of late has been brainstorming and testing ways to bring programming to serve neurodiverse students in town. This Sunday’s Cal Bears adaptive football clinic at the Havens Elementary School field (details below) is just the latest example of a new effort to build community for kids who are often left on the sidelines of social and sports events.
Phalen, who came to Piedmont from Albany, said she had started to work on adaptive PE programs there before the pandemic hit and effectively shut down in-person activities. In a conversation with Exedra editors on Monday, Phalen and adaptive programs specialist Larisa Martiniak talked about the new programs they’re adding and why they’re excited about these initiatives.
Martiniak is the parent of two children, one neurodiverse and one neurotypical. She said she knows firsthand how challenging and painful it can be to find adaptive activities for kids with ADHD, autism or for kids with more unique needs. “For families with a neurodiverse child, weekdays are typically full of appointments, therapy, and other obligations” said Martiniak. “It’s the weekends — days filled with birthday parties, sports events, and such for neurotypical kids — that can be especially hard for kids who don’t get invited to things.”
Phalen said they’ve been working closely with the parent group Piedmonters for Inclusive Education (PIE, formerly PRAISE) and with the school district’s special education staff to identify the kinds of programming PRD could be offering. Some of the initiatives to date have included a USTA tennis clinic, an adaptive soccer academy with 24/7 UK Soccer Academy, media arts, sensory Friday movie, and social groups.
Building programs for neurodiverse kids has also meant building up a volunteer Teen Sidekick program – enlisting Piedmont teens to volunteer as “buddies” in clinics and camps. Martiniak says the teens who sign up are “incredible’ — many are either neurodiverse themselves or are comfortable working with neurodiverse kids because of experience with a friend or family member.
Phalen and Martiniak say there’s more to come — look out for new offerings this winter and spring.
Cal Bears Football clinic for neurodiverse students on Oct. 22 at Havens Elementary School field
The upcoming Sunday football clinic for neurodiverse kids is led by Matthew Cindric, a Cal football offensive lineman who has experience in adaptive sports coaching through the Golden Buddies Football Clinic. (You can learn more about his involvement with the Golden Buddies Football Clinic in this San Francisco Chronicle article HERE)
The Rec Department bills the clinic that takes place on Sunday as “a single day opportunity to learn the basics of football with current and former Cal football players. Athletes will get to interact with the Cal football players who will be running the stations, encouraging and empowering each participant. The clinic will allow athletes the opportunity to enjoy the game of football in its full scope. From throwing, catching, to kicking and scoring touchdowns, this camp will focus on a variety of football skills. This will also allow campers to interact with others and learn the importance of teamwork.
Football Clinic: For neurodiverse students age 6 – 13 on Sunday, Oct. 22 from 1 – 2:15 p.m. Register HERE