Autistic children enjoy friendship, bowling

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

Around 35 children with various degrees of autism spent a fun morning bowling and making friends at the Sevierville Community Center.

“It’s a good way to help them develop their social skills,” said Lisa Roberts, co-director of the Smoky Mountain Friendship Club, which organizes a group outing for area autistic children once a month, funded by the East Tennessee Autism Society. “They make friends and we always try to emphasize the social aspect of it. Once a month we try to do something that these kids wouldn’t normally do.”

The place went cosmic around 11:15 a.m. Saturday, as floors and walls were erratically spattered in neon. The effect didn’t bother the kids, some of whom have issues with too much sensory input, Roberts said.

In general, the balls rolled slowly down the lanes. A child who struck the center pin might cause only a few to fall. Overeagerness occasionally resulted in balls ramming into the guard that comes down to swipe the pins away.

There were no bumpers, which meant a lot of gutter balls and few strikes, but hitting just one pin was cause for celebration.

Some children threw straight down the middle but turned and walked back without seeing whether they knocked down any pins at all. The score didn’t really matter. The kids were enjoying themselves, and so were their parents, who took their turns rolling along with their kids.

“We just try to make a way for families to come and enjoy things that other families would just do without even thinking about it,” said Roberts, citing other outings the group had organized, including trips to the movies and Smokies baseball games.

John Kegley took pictures of his son, Jeremiah. He took a break from the task every once in a while to step up to the lane after his wife, Teresa, and Jeremiah had rolled.

“It’s Jeremiah’s first time bowling,” John said. “He always sees us playing it on the Wii, so he was looking forward to it.”

Although the ball was bigger than his head, Jeremiah had a sure hand. With his mother’s help, he was tossing the rock down the middle of the lane and knocking several pins down at once, to high-fives all around.

John said Jeremiah was having a great time, “though sometimes he’s more interested in what the machines are doing,” he said with a laugh.

rhargett@themountainpress.com