Thursday, November 11, 2010

San Diego's Autism Re Spectrum Community Nonprofit Offers Support, Sports

Each Monday afternoon at Tidelands Park in Coronado an unlikely soccer team gathers. Like any other team, they wear jerseys, take team photos, and slap high-fives. But look closely. These players aren't just here to learn how to Bend it Like Beckham. They're also learning how to socialize. Meet the Re Spectrum Lil’ Athletes soccer team, comprised of local children on the autism spectrum as well as those with other qualifying developmental disabilities. You have to see it to appreciate it.

Smile! A Re Spectrum Lil' Athlete
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)
Re Spectrum is a San Diego based 501c3 nonprofit organization that "re-ables" local children who fall on the autism spectrum, a wide and somewhat nebulous range of developmental disorders ranging from Autism to Asperger's to Pervasive Developmental Disorder and more. Says Courtney Olinger, president and CEO of Re Spectrum, "The very nature of the prefix ‘Re’ suggests starting 'again' or 'anew.'"

While many local organizations raise awareness and funds for autism research, Re Spectrum differentiates itself by also raising money for services. It's these services--primarily their recreational team sports--that people are talking about. Here's why.

Physical Fitness

Players engage in physical activity such as warm-ups, obstacle courses, and drills, all of which are designed to teach discipline, fitness, strategy and skills necessary to play a team sport. The Re Spectrum Community Lil’ Athletes love practicing. Can you tell?
This Little Guy's Got Air!
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)

This is where autistic soccer gets tricky. Thanks to the tremendous number of volunteers, each player is often assigned to their own coach to help guide, correct and reward behavior. Most of the volunteers are Coronado High School students, who are superb role models for the kids. Take a look at the social strides being made between players and coaches.
A Volunteer Coach Offers Guidance
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)

Volunteer Coach and Player Hug it Out!
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)
Re Spectrum Community’s Founder--A Passionate Vision

Had it not been for the tireless efforts of founding board members Courtney Olinger and Libby Allman, the children would be unable to participate in a soccer program. Courtney's quest to improve the lives of autistic and other developmentally disabled children is both a professional and personal mission. Her brother recently ended his life due to the intense social stresses of living with Asperger's. I heard her heartbreaking story when she took to the microphone at the Re Spectrum silent auction at Humphrey’s on November 6, 2010. She moved me to tears. I know Courtney’s brother’s legacy will help her to make an astounding difference.
Re Spectrum Community Founder Courtney Olinger (left) and Coronado Resident Tori Heintzelman
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)
A Coronado Thank You

Olinger would like to thank the people of Coronado for supporting the soccer team. After all, Island Light Photography took the team photos, Park Life Real Estate donated money for the soccer jerseys, Cobblestone Auto Spa paid the hefty liability insurance, and thanks to board member Tim Monahan, the Coronado Recreational Soccer League allowed use of the fields. The many Coronado High School volunteers, coordinated via Vice Principal Jenny Moore, deserve thanks for their efforts. Resident volunteer Tori Heintzelman is commended for her active role in advocating the nonprofit.

How Can You Help? The Future of Re Spectrum Sports in Coronado

Thanks to local support, additional sport leagues are being organized. The future Re Spectrum lacrosse team is making tremendous strides. South Swell Sports and Coronado High School lacrosse coach Alex Cade, with the help of student volunteers and Village Elementary P.E. teacher Kim Quinlan, have offered both volunteer coaches and equipment. Now they are looking to secure a practice field.

Re Spectrum is also interested in starting basketball, baseball, and yoga for developmentally disabled children. Unfortunately, the nonprofit still needs both equipment and facilities. Those interested in volunteering time, equipment, or other resources may contact Courtney Olinger at (619) 301-4041 or at

Re Spectrum wants you to know that by assisting the autistic community through therapeutic services, family action planning, recreation programs, social skills training, and resources, the autistic child is not viewed as disabled, but re-abled. I like the positive mantra, and I love the results. Watching developmentally disabled children kick a ball is rewarding. Watching them smile? Pure paradise.
Still Smiling After Practice
(Awesomely amateur photo credit: Carrie Keyes)
* For more information on autistic support, San Diego Re Spectrum sports leagues or to make a donation, contact

* Re Spectrum sports leagues are not limited to Coronado, but many areas of San Diego County. Call Re Spectrum at (619) 301-4041 for details.

*Pencil it in! Re Spectrum is hosting a Bocce Ball Tournament in the Spring of 2011. Corporate sponsors are needed. Please contact Re Spectrum to contribute.

*Could your child be suffering from Asperger’s? Click here for more information.

* Facts: Autism affects 1:110 children. A recent study has estimated the lifetime cost for an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder to be $3.2 million.

*Thanks, Re Spectrum soccer players, for inviting me to your practice! You are a real inspiration. Can I be your cheerleader?

(Carrie Keyes is the author of the blog Pencil in Paradise, found at, and

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