Bringing their skills to the Olympics

COSTA MESA — Shaking pompoms and marching with as much precision as they could, about 90 preschoolers on Friday opened the fourth annual mini-Olympics.

Mariners, Adams, Paularino and Harbor View elementary preschoolers enrolled in autism programs spent the morning completing a series of athletic feats in Estancia High School's Jim Scott Stadium.

"We want them to feel like they have a really great day and they were celebrated," said Renee Tedford, Harbor View's autism preschool teacher.

The event is the culmination of the autism preschool program's High-Five Sports League, where the students play softball and soccer, said Kelly Vogelman, Adams' autism preschool teacher.

The events, like soccer kick and softball throw, are designed to give them practice on the skills they have been working on all year, she said.

The obstacle and water course, 25-foot dash, hurdles and tug-of-war, though, were just for fun, Vogelman said.

For mom Gloria Tinoco, whose 4-year-old son Keoly is in the program, the event is also a chance to see that autistic people aren't to be feared.

"We're normal just like everyone else," she said. "We just have a lot more challenges — a lot more."

The autism preschool classes serve students on all levels of the autism spectrum and their "typical" peers. About 25 weren't autistic, Tedford said.

The Olympics forces the generally anti-social autistic students to interact with their peers, Tinoco said, adding it has helped her son branch out.

"He'll do events, where before he was just standing around," she said.

Adams Elementary student Bella Valenzuela, 5, who has participated in the event for the last two years, said she has been looking forward to it, especially the opening ceremony.

"I marched," she said, while waiting in line for the hurdles. "It was like a parade."

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