Autistic footballer realises dream as he joins mainstream team

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Media caption'It's a place we can be ourselves,' say children with autism

A football-mad 12-year-old whose autism made playing almost impossible has realised his dream to be in a team.

Evan's condition made communication and being in large groups difficult.

But after joining a special academy at Cwm Wanderers, he has developed to such an extent he is now part of a mainstream side.

Officials at the club in Cwmtwrch, in the Swansea valley, now want to raise £500,000 to help more youngsters.

Meleri Thomas, from the National Autistic Society Cymru, said too many autistic people miss out on playing sport because of a lack of understanding of their condition.

Evan's social and football skills have both improved since he joined Cwm Wanderers' Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) academy.

"Communication has always been a problem and a struggle with him, especially in large groups," said his mum Stephanie Davies.

"Football has always been a massive interest of his, but to find a team that he could actually go to was impossible."

Image caption Evan (middle) has made new friends playing striker for his new team

He is now playing every Saturday with children he calls friends, something his mother called "absolutely incredible".

Children from the mainstream side help coach the academy and Evan is the first youngster to integrate into it.

In total, there are 30 under-18s from across south Wales training every week, while there are 60 on a waiting list.

The academy was set up by Andrea Smith, whose son Steffan has autism, in 2017.

Image caption Andrea Smith wants to help as many people as possible through football

She said she wanted to "change the lives of the families and the children that come to the academy" and raise £500,000 in a year to cater for everyone who wants to join.

The money would help create an all-weather pitch next to the clubhouse, meaning youngsters could use it all year round.

"We've got a mammoth task within the next 12 months, to raise half a million pounds to turn this pitch into 4G," she said.

"I think for the children, it would mean everything to them as well as the parents and everybody else that participates in Cwm Wanderers."

She is launching a number of initiatives to try and raise the cash.

"Too many autistic children and adults miss out due to a lack of understanding of what it can be like to be autistic and how this could affect someone's experience of sport," said Ms Thomas of the National Autistic Society Cymru.

"For example, some autistic people could have a hypersensitivity to touch and find wearing team bibs physically painful, or struggle to understand instructions if they're not explained in plain language."

She called it "a great local initiative", adding: "Better understanding of autism in sport, and across society, could help transform the lives many autistic people and families in Wales."

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