Exceptional Kids Athletics Offers Sports for Special Needs Children

Kids of any age and mental and physical disabilities are welcome to participate in this non-profit organization based in Snellville.

Credit: Lisa Carter
Credit: Lisa Carter
Snellville resident Aimee Prainito, an occupational therapist for the Shiloh cluster in Gwinnett County Public Schools, was on a home care visit with a special needs child when the idea for Exceptional Kids Athletics came about. 

"One of the moms was complaining that she was out in Loganville and they had nothing for her son for sports, and they had to go to Norcross," Prainito said. "That's far when you have a special needs child. I mentioned it to my husband, and he said, 'Let's start one.'" 

They had never done anything like it before, so she laughed it off, and they didn't touch on the subject for months. But then in 2012, they, along with international soccer player Jonn Warde from Barbados, got the ball rolling: They established a name, became incorporated with a non-profit status and began their first season of soccer with 20 kids last spring.

"We offer the program to any child with any physical or mental disability," Prainito said. "We adapt the game to bring all these kids with different disabilities to function." 

Exceptional Kids Athletics, or EKA, is open to ages 4 to 18 and has attracted kids from Gwinnett, DeKalb and Walton counties. While the program allows special needs children to exercise one hour a week, it also teaches kids how to be more comfortable with one another and be more team-oriented.

"It amazes me how they can make all of those disabilities work, because at the end of the season, all of these kids are running around playing soccer," said Lisa Brown, whose son has Down syndrome. "From a parent's perspective, I just cannot tell you what it has brought to my child socially and physically."

Every Sunday, the children in EKA are taught by professional athletes in a supervised, controlled environment. Each team, which is divided into groups of five or six by cognitive ability and not necessarily age, is headed by a coach who is either a former professional soccer player, a current play soccer or a coach from another sport. There are also adult volunteers who work with the children in case of meltdowns, and each child has his or her own "Buddy" or volunteer, aged 9 to 18. 

While Prainito pulls out all the precautions when it comes to the kids, she also makes sure that children aren't coddled or given free passes. There is a penalty box and a time-out for children who act out, and while parents can volunteer on the team, Prainito actually recommends they take the night off and not to lend a hand.

"I want to give them the same feeling I get when I'm watching my son play soccer," said Prainito, whose child is not in special needs. "I want them to yell at the coach."

As for the future, Prainito is looking to add more sports such as cheerleading and track and field to EKA. She also has gotten feedback on people interested in establishing more EKA organizations in the region and even overseas.

EKA is currently registering kids for its third season starting in March. If you would like to sign up your child for the six-week program, register before Feb. 1, 2014, here. Registration is $65 per child, but scholarships are available.  

To donate, volunteer or learn more about Exceptional Kids Athletics, visit www.exceptionalkidsathletics.org
Aimee Weinstein Prainito January 02, 2014 at 11:18 PM
Thank you for the wonderful article and letting everyone know that there is a special needs sports program right here in snellville
patrice barnes January 03, 2014 at 07:09 AM
I and my mom with special needs twins one of which is actually in a picture in this article thank you so much for everything it really instills confidence and love and togetherness and teamwork into all your kids I will be going to this program again.Its very inexpensive and its so worth the money everyone is so amazing so nice so patient and definitely knows how to work with special needs children great program highly recommend its an amazing thing to do for your children


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