Autistic boy trying to fit in with football team

Autistic boy trying to fit in with football team
HAPPY: Seven-year-old Kaito Jago with his football card collection and his father Terry Jago.

It was his fifth birthday party.

But while other children were having fun playing, he sat in a corner alone for hours and spoke to no one.

Kaito Jago, who is now seven, has autism.

It was only when his father signed him up with a junior football club that he finally began to open up.

Autism is a condition that affects social interaction and the ability to communicate.

The PAssion Children's Football (PACF) programme, organised by the People's Association (PA), conducts weekly training for children aged five to 12.

The programme is offered at 30 Community Sports Clubs (CSCs), which operate under the PA to provide sports activities for residents.

There are 1,200 children of over 10 nationalities in the initiative, giving them the opportunity to learn about other cultures.

Kaito has been playing for Admiralty CSC under PACF for nine months.

His father, Mr Terry Jago, 37, a British national, signed Kaito up to help him deal with his condition. He said Kaito's autism meant he had problems socialising with his classmates. This affected the boy so much that Mr Jago pulled him out of a local primary school.

He told The New Paper: "Kaito's teacher said he was by himself a lot as he finds it hard to socialise.

"Then, last year, we were driving past a football field and I saw a coach training a bunch of kids."

Mr Jago went back that weekend to sign Kaito up.

And since the boy started playing for the club, he has slowly been coming out of his shell, said Mr Jago.

HAVING FUN

He added: "At first, he would just play with the cones by himself. But now, he's talking to other kids and having fun with them. It makes me happy to see that he's trying to fit in with the team."

The weekly Sunday morning training sessions are now the highlight of Kaito's week.

Mr Jago said: "Usually, I wake up before Kaito, but on Sundays, he's up before me and already dressed in his jersey."

When TNP visited Kaito's home on Friday, the painfully shy boy averted his gaze from our reporter, fixing it on the ground instead.

But his eyes lit up when Mr Jago mentioned his football trading card collection. Kaito slowly pulled the cards out, one by one, from his album and counted them.

"I have 37 cards," the boy mumbled to TNP in a rare show of friendliness.

A beaming Mr Jago said: "He probably wouldn't have done that a few years ago."

Children like Kaito make friends and develop confidence through PACF, said Mr Lawrence Ng, CSC Council chairman.

"We welcome all kids, whether they have special needs, come from a low-income family, or a different country," he told TNP.

"We want to promote the message that every child is a champion."

Mr Ng estimates that over 11,000 children have benefited from the programme, which started in 2004.

One of them is Wilson Siah, eight. a Primary 2 pupil at Riverside Primary School.

Like Kaito, Wilson used to be a reserved boy. His mother, Mrs Jenny Siah, 33, told TNP: "In the first two weeks of school, he didn't talk to anyone at all. His teacher even asked me if he had problems speaking."

Mrs Siah decided to let Wilson join PACF as he was spending his entire recess playing football.

"I was worried he would go hungry in school, so I signed him up to let him play football on the weekends," she said.

Wilson has changed since he started playing for Woodlands CSC in August.

Mrs Siah said: "He has learnt to communicate with the other kids and give instructions.

"You can tell from the way he talks that he's more confident now."

Although the weekly trainings are tiring, Wilson told TNP that he looks forward to them.

He said: "I made a lot of friends and we talk about everything."


This article was first published on February 9, 2015.
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