Panathlon has played a crucial role in helping Aaron Ahmetaj overcome his anxieties and make his first friends at Rush Green Primary School in Romford.

Ten-year-old Aaron has autism and used to be non-verbal and highly anxious, but Panathlon has played a big part in the gradual process of his social integration.

That progress has now been recognised in our Woodland Group East London Outstanding Achievement awards, in which Aaron finished as a runner-up.

Nicola Seabrook, Aaron’s teacher at Rush Green, explained: “When Aaron first joined us, he did not converse at all and his feelings were displayed in outbursts. In Year 4, he did not do PE at all as he would not get changed in school.”

The pandemic did not help matters. “He was extremely nervous about restarting school [when restrictions allowed],” said Miss Seabrook. “He was anxious about coming back into a large setting, unsettled in his routine and did not want to leave mum.”

Since returning, gently introducing Aaron to sport – and Panathlon in particular – has proven to be a turning point.

Staff put in a lot of work to persuade him to join in with PE lessons, then to join the school team taking part in Panathlon 10-pin bowling competitions outside of school – a big step outside his comfort zone.

Miss Seabrook explained: “Panathlon has helped him to integrate and become confident with joining in activities that are not in his usual schedule. It has showed him he can enjoy such activities and they are not scary.”

Best of all, Aaron has made his first friend. “They actually converse,” says Miss Seabrook. “This is the first time ever [in school] that Aaron has had a friend. Otherwise, he only talks to his brother.

“Before he started joining in sports activities, he did not have any form of social skills that enabled him to make friends. He now enjoys play time and has even had a birthday party – his first one ever – where he invited 10 friends from school.”

Aaron can now work in small groups in school and can complete some work independently. He has developed the confidence to communicate with others and now has a friend to play with at break and lunch times.”

Representing the school at Panathlon 10-pin bowling events and a lot of work with staff has given him the confidence to integrate into whole-school PE lessons – with minor adaptations for his ability in sports.

Miss Seabrook added: “He looks forward to being chosen for outside school events and shows off his medal in celebration assemblies. This is a huge progression.”

We thank our supporters at Woodland Group for sponsoring our annual Outstanding Achievement awards in East London and Essex