Hockey coach helping children with autism fulfill chance to play sport

BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Thanks to one man with a dream, autistic kids are playing hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

Meet Patrick.

He’s a 9-year-old who loves playing with his dog almost as much as playing on his computer. He’s also autistic. So come Saturday morning, everything changes. All he’s interested in his coach Joe and getting on the ice.

“But, he loves hockey, loves hockey. He wears the Boston black and gold and he’s all ready to go,” said Joe Dellanno, SLS Hockey Coach.

“When he comes here, his face lights up. He wants to interact with us and he wants to perform,” Dellanno said.

Skating didn’t come naturally for the autistic boy, but he’s come a long way, thanks to coach Dellanno, who figured out how get kids like Patrick to focus and pay attention.

"They’re into video games, so we thought wouldn’t it be cool if we put a video game underneath their feet and then make it move so that it’s animated so they have to chase it or they have to interact with it,” Dellanno said.

And, that’s what he does. Here at smart light sports, Dellanno projects images on the ice the kids relate to, like flamingos, whales or stars. And, before you know it, they follow along, focus and learn.

Caileigh Sweeney, Patrick’s sister, said “it’s great that he’s doing something that he loves and that he’s happy.”

Patrick’s dad, Tim Sweeny said “I also think it’s joe’s coaching style. He does a great job with Patrick. They made an instant connection when we came here.”

“Every day that I leave here, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve made a difference in these kid’s lives. So, I know I’m connecting with them and it makes me feel absolutely wonderful.” Dellanno said happily.

“It really warms my heart just to see how happy he is. We just want him to have fun just like all the other kids,” said Maureen Sweeney, Patrick’s mom.

Dellanno applies his smart light technology to lots of sports, including hockey, field hockey, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. And, they are in the process of getting this technology working all over the country.

Contributors to this news report include: Pamela Tomlin, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Steve D’Onofrio, Videographer.