The partnership between Panathlon and Doucecroft School has enabled students on the autism spectrum to flourish by taking part in competitive sport.

Panathlon deliver competitive sport opportunities to over 10,000 disabled and SEN children every year, and their competitions have revolutionised PE and sport at the Colchester school, providing their pupils with previously unimaginable opportunities.

“I can’t tell you how much it has changed the school,” says Andrea Griffiths, PE Lead at the specialist co-educational school for children with autism and additional complex needs.

She adds: “Panathlon events have open our staff’s eyes. They can see how happy the students are at the events and on return to school, and how PE is so important for our students.

“Our students find change to their daily routine and unfamiliar settings very stressful and the Panathlon events took them all out of their comfort zone. We are so proud of all our students and how they have dealt with that and performed.”

Doucecroft took part in their first Panathlon event in January 2015 and Andrea describes the ensuing period as “a remarkable two years for the school,” which previously didn’t take part in any competitive sport.

Their highlights in those two years have been winning the 2015 East England Primary Panathlon title, competing in three Panathlon swimming finals at the Aquatics Centre at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and one of their pupils, Ethan-Beau Howes, winning Panathlon’s Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Award in 2016.

Overall Outstanding Achiever Award - Ethan Beau-Howes - Doucecroft School Colchester - The Panathlon Challenge - Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards 2016 - John Lewis - Stratford - London - 23/11/2016 © Andrew Fosker / Seconds Left Images for Panathlon

Ethan-Beau (pictured left), who has autism, ADHD, a chromosome abnormality, a heart defect and has had spinal surgery, has competed in Panathlon swimming, multi-sports, boccia and bowling events and loves helping primary-age children at events, too.

Watching Ethan-Beau receive his award, Andrea commented: “Ethan was quiet and withdrawn with no self-confidence, just a shy little boy when he came to us. He was very reluctant to participate in any social event and had not done PE in his previous mainstream school. We worked hard to offer him adapted activities and since he joined Panathlon he hasn’t looked back.”

Panathlon has also provided Doucecroft with opportunities to connect with other schools. They have arranged friendly competitions with nearby Columbus, Market Field and Shorefields schools, all of whom they met through Panathlon, and even joined forces with Southview School to form a team in last summer’s Essex Panathlon Final.

“It’s nice for our students to meet other students from the area. It’s not just about the competition, it’s about the social aspects as well. Their self-esteem has come on amazingly,”says Andrea.

Speaking at last year’s South East Regional Swimming Final at the Aquatics Centre – venue for the London 2012 Olympics – Doucecroft pupil Alex Smyth said: It has been an amazing day and it’s an honour to be here in the Olympic swimming stadium. It’s been one of my dreams to come here. Not every kid gets the chance to do this.”

Kuben Reddy, Doucecroft’s Head of Lower School, added: Panathlon is a fantastic charity and its brilliant events are an ideal opportunity for our students.

“There are so many learning opportunities today; just to travel, get changed in a different environment, social skills, meeting different people, and listening to instructions that they have to follow. They’ve done really well.”

In the 2015/16 academic year, 563 schools took part in Panathlon events in 27 counties across England, giving their students opportunities to engage in competitive sport that they are otherwise so often denied.