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Teaming up for autism and special needs

CMU autism center and athletics create Chippewas TOPSoccer

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Melissa Tuttle, director of autism assessment in Central Michigan University's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, knew CMU women's soccer coach Peter McGahey could help her level the playing field for children with autism and special needs.

McGahey is active in the Midland Soccer Club's TOPSoccer — a national program that's inclusive for children 5- to 14-years-old regardless of disability — and together Tuttle and McGahey launched Chippewas TOPSoccer.

"TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) provides a safe space for children with autism to be successful at fun, recreational activities and provides them with a place to develop relationships with others, practice social skills, and continue developing motor and leisure skills," Tuttle said. "It also demonstrates a commitment to making the community a more inclusive place — one where all persons have opportunities and are valued."

The program is free for all players and is coordinated through a partnership with CMU women's soccer, Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, and the Midland Soccer Club.

Tuttle, a 2016 CMU graduate of the school psychology doctoral program, first learned of TOPSoccer through previous work in Omaha, Nebraska. But it regularly has been a part of McGahey and his family's life for many years.

"This is a way to give back to the communities where we live and to the game that has given me so much," said McGahey, who this fall will enter his fifth season as CMU's head soccer coach. "TOPSoccer focuses on encouragement and offers opportunities to participate in soccer at the ability level of each athlete."

Through this partnership, McGahey and Tuttle established an internship to provide professional development opportunities for an interested student who will help the program grow and ensure its longevity. Kaylin Hoomaian, a senior exercise science major from Novi, Michigan, served as the first TOPSoccer intern.

In addition to behind-the-scenes coordination and organization, Hoomaian also interacted and played soccer with the children at their respective skill levels.

"It is so cool to see the athletes' confidence grow from one week to the next, as well as their pure enjoyment for the game," said Hoomaian, a member of the CMU soccer team and two-time Academic All-Mid-American Conference selection. "It opens the door to not only learn the fundamentals of soccer, but also to experience teamwork and just have fun! It makes my day being able to smile, laugh and enjoy soccer with them."

The spring TOPSoccer program that started April 3 will conclude May 1, and plans are underway to host it again this fall and in spring 2018.

TOPSoccer is one of many programs and resources CMU offers to help with diagnosing, treating and living with autism spectrum disorder. In addition to the Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, other resources include:

Carls Center

Psychological Training and Consultation Center

• Central Assessment Lending Library

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