Coach blends video games, sports for special needs kids

Thanks to a special coach with a dream, autistic kids are playing hockey, baseball, and lacrosse.

A youth coach blended video games with sports to make those activities more accessible for special needs children.

Patrick, 9, loves playing with his dog almost as much as playing on his computer. He also has autism.

However, come Saturday morning, everything changes. All he’s interested in is Coach Joe and getting on the ice.

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“He loves hockey, loves hockey. He wears the Boston black and gold, and he’s all ready to go. When he comes here, his face lights up. He wants to interact with us, and he wants to perform,” said Joe Dellanno, Patrick’s hockey coach.

Skating didn’t come naturally for the autistic boy, but he’s come a long way thanks to Dellanno, who figured out how to 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,” said Dellanno.

And that’s what he does. 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.

“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,” said Tim Sweeny, Patrick’s dad.

“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,” said Dellanno.

“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 Patrick’s mom, Maureen Sweeney.

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.

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