Life can be a struggle for autistic children and their families. But every Saturday in Montgomery County they enjoy an escape.
The Montgomery Cheetahs, a hockey team for autistic kids, helps many of the players connect with others. The’ coach, David Lucia, teaches kids responsibility and teamwork, gives them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
“For so many of them the doors are closed, and what we do here is we open doors for these kids,” says Lucia, whose son is also on the team.
The Montgomery Cheetahs have helped some of these kids so much, they're about to go off to college.
And mentors, hockey players from local high schools, commit their Saturdays to the kids as well. One mentor, Alex Gandolfo, says he’s fortunate enough to work with the kids and see them grow. Parents also praise the program.
One father, Sean Twombley, says the program is one thing that brings him true joy.
“What we found with the Cheetas was that he could connect these kids, these kids were like him and the program afforded him a safe place where he didn't have to feel like he was always worrying about what others thought,” he says.
His 9-year-old son Ben has blossomed as a member of the Cheetahs.
So has 10-year-old Maurice Van Lowe, who was diagnosed autistic at 18 months. On the ice, Maurice was able to break out of his solitary world.
“I have so many friends,” he says.