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UCF Launches Adaptive Recreational Program for Neuro-Atypical Community

Central Floridians who have developed a neurological disorder as a result of an accident or disease can now join recreational teams created just for them at the University of Central Florida.

A new UCF Adaptive Community Project is seeking up to 70 participants to join sports teams, a theater production and/or a choir adapted to fit the needs of neuro-atypical conditions. Participants can join as many teams as they’d like for free.

The opportunity is open to greater Orlando residents and includes sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, softball, acting and script-writing positions in theater, and a choir for those with acquired speech disorders. Each activity will have modified equipment, such as beeping balls for those with visual impairments to detect where the ball is by sound, costumes made for those in wheelchairs, and more.

The Adaptive Community Project is an interdisciplinary effort developed and led by UCF neuropsychologist and clinical associate professor Megan Sherod. Her goal is to give members of the local neuro-atypical community a new outlet to socialize and exercise.

“What’s lacking in the community is this type of resource and opportunity for people who weren’t born with neuro-atypical conditions, but who’ve acquired them through accident, injury or disease,” she said.

Oftentimes, those diagnosed with neurological disorders end up feeling socially isolated from the rest of the community, she said.

Sherod consulted with Robert Pritchard, a former UCF football player who while at his home in Georgia, suffered a massive stroke in 2012 [1] that led to speech and physical impairments. He helped guide Sherod in developing the sport aspect of the project.

Like Pritchard, survivors of strokes, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, West Nile Virus and other life-altering events that led to neurological disorders are the target of the program.

Participants will practice once a week for at least a semester, and will work up toward a tournament, concert or live theatrical performance.

Practices and script writing will begin by the end of September, but participants can join at any time. For more on how to join, see: http://sciences.ucf.edu/psychology/adaptive-community [2]

Through Sherod’s outreach, UCF Psychology, Theatre, Music, Student Health Services, Communications Sciences and Disorders, Physical Therapy, Student Development and Enrollment Services, and the Recreation and Wellness Center have all chipped in space and equipment, faculty expertise or student volunteers. For instance, graduate students studying how to become speech language pathologists will assist each team with communication.

“Students who volunteer in this initiative will have a better understanding of how acquired neurological impairments are more than just a label or a diagnosis. It affects the survivor’s bodily functions, their engagement with family, friends and the community,” said Amy Engelhoven, a lecturer in Communication Sciences and Disorders and director of the Aphasia House at UCF.

More than 60 volunteers from UCF, including students, faculty and staff, are needed to help run the program. Volunteers of all abilities are welcome.

Jonathan Trufant, for instance, will volunteer as coach for the wheelchair basketball team despite having cerebral palsy.

“When I was a kid, I needed a disabled role model to show me I can function in society, too,” said Trufant, a UCF psychology student. “It’s super important to have people within your community to connect with.”

A grant from the Office of the Quality Enhancement Plan at UCF will help Sherod purchase adaptive equipment for the program.

It’s intended that the program will be offered year-round. Ultimately, Sherod hopes to enhance UCF’s partnership with the local neurological community.