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Tiah comes out of her shell through Young Athletes

After almost four months in lockdown Tiah overcame her shyness through sport and play.

Tiah comes out of her shell at Young Athletes programme

After almost four months in lockdown, Auckland mum Natalie Robinson found a way for her daughter Tiah to overcome her shyness through Special Olympics’ sport and play programme for children, Young Athletes. 

Being locked down meant that like many other children, Tiah had a difficult time learning important physical and social skills Natalie explains. 

“So many kids in lockdown were missing out on socializing and developing those things you learn when you’re young, because they’re not getting out and doing stuff.” 

Even before lockdown Natalie says Tiah has always been behind physically when compared to her peers and struggles to do the same activities they do. 

“With Down syndrome you get the mental delay, but you also get the physical delay. Things I’d see other kids her age doing, she wasn’t.” 

Natalie first heard of Special Olympics New Zealand’s Young Athletes programme in 2019, a free sport and play programme designed to help develop motor and social skills for children with intellectual disabilities. 

After taking part in her first Young Athletes programme when Tiah wasn’t yet one-year-old, Natalie brought her back when she was three and says the improvements in her physical skills and confidence were plain to see. 

“It really helped her, with kicking and catching and throwing she got so much better during the time she was there.”  

Tiah practicing her balance with sister Jentah supervising (right)

“She also improved in ways I couldn’t imagine, like socially. Before when we’d go to Kindy, if there was a new activity she’d hide and not go near it, but now she gives it a try and gets excited about it.” 

Natalie says Tiah enjoyed the programme more than she expected and overcame her shyness of new people within weeks. 

“The first session she stuck to me like glue, but a few sessions later she was like ‘cheers mum for dropping me off, I don’t need you anymore’.” 

Natalie has also enjoyed bringing her other daughter, 2-year-old Jentah, along to the programme, even though she isn’t diagnosed with an intellectual disability. 

“It’s great for her to be involved and she’s fit in so well. Other siblings of Young Athletes have come along too and it’s lovely that no-one seems to notice the disabilities, everybody just wants to have fun.”

Natalie and her daughters Tiah and Jentah enjoying a day out.

After her husband passed away 15 months ago Natalie says being a single mum of two can be challenging and having activities designed for children with an intellectual disability, such as Tiah, provides a lot of support. 

“There are a lot of people in my situation who are on their own with children with special needs, which can be very stressful, in life everything’s very different. To have things that are specifically for them, run by people who adapt to them and understand that your child might not get involved or understand something straight away, makes such a difference.” 

Now after seeing the benefits of Young Athletes, Natalie aims to keep Tiah as active as possible and get her involved with sports in the future. 

“I want her to be healthy and be into sports and have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Natalie originally knew of Special Olympics through their Club Programme providing sports training and competition across New Zealand, but at 4-years-old Tiah is too young to get involved.  

“When we’d go to therapists or the hospital or talk to other parents they’d all mention Special Olympics, but it was always well you can’t join until you’re eight, but Young Athletes is just such a good stepping stone to get children to build up to it.” 

Natalie says now Young Athletes has expanded across Auckland, the new locations offered make attending sessions much easier. Natalie and Tiah are currently enjoying the 7-week North Shore programme with plans to enroll in a term 2 programme later in the year. 

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For more information on the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme visit specialolympics.org.nz/young-athletes 

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March 2022 Fanletter