Marvin, a residential student, participating in the Basketball Skills Challenge

Each month, NECC’s Adapted Physical Education, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy (APE, OT, PT) department provides a special activity to students during physical education class. This month, in partnership with Special Olympics Massachusetts, students will participate in a virtual basketball skills challenge. The challenges will start with shooting during the first few weeks, before the introduction of dribbling challenges. As with everything that the department does, the key is to make the activity accessible to as many students as possible.

“We have three baskets at different heights available to students depending on their age and ability,” explains Sean Cooke, an APE teacher who helps lead students through the different challenges.

This activity is just another example of collaboration between NECC and Special Olympics Massachusetts. In typical years, students will travel to Special Olympics Massachusetts’ Marlborough headquarters to participate in soccer and basketball challenges. While the COVID-19 pandemic paused these in-person events, NECC has continued the partnership by working to offer Zoom yoga series and now, this basketball skills challenge.                                                                                                                      

“The collaborative effort with Special Olympics Massachusetts is essential,” says Phil Leonard, MS, Assistant Director of APE. “They have always been an organization that allows us to modify our programming here to get our student athletes involved. That’s really made a huge difference, especially this past year, where we’ve had to change so much of what we do.”

The theme of change has run through much of NECC’s programming throughout the past year, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the APE, PT, OT department. After the Southborough campus temporarily shut down last spring, the department was forced to significantly alter their teaching. Initially, they began providing video content on a newly created YouTube channel. Later, teachers went to residential facilities to provide some in-person education although still at a distance. Even after the school began slowly reopening last July, the department has had to continue to adapt their programming to follow health and safety protocols. While obviously difficult, there were hidden positives to these new circumstances.

“Everything this past year really forced us to be creative in how we provide programming to our students,” says Leonard. “That creativity spawned the YouTube channel and all the video content that makes lessons and activities more accessible to a greater number of students.”

While the department is hopeful to return to more standard classes in the near future, for now, they are happy with their current offerings. From video lessons, to the reopening of the pool last fall for residential students, to the basketball skills challenge, students are receiving the physical education that they so greatly enjoy.

About The New England Center for Children

The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is an award-winning autism education center and research institute. Committed to creating a world where autism is not a barrier to happiness, growth, and independence, our community of teachers, researchers, and clinicians provide comprehensive services including home-based, day, and residential programs, partner classrooms in public school systems, consulting services, and the ACE® ABA Software System (

We are committed to creating an equitable workplace for our diverse team and providing industry-leading staff professional development opportunities, specifically with our on-campus graduate degree partnership programs. The result is a growing pool of autism educators and researchers that impact the lives of children with autism both at NECC and around the world. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at