College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

CEHD Alumna Makes Team Sports Accessible for Children With Autism

September 22, 2014

Margarita Benavides gets to see her dreams come true every week, in the form of children with special needs playing team sports.

Benavides, an alumna of the Special Education program at George Mason University, last year launched a nonprofit called C.A.T.S. (Children's Adaptive Team Sports) in Chantilly, Virginia, with a soccer program. The CentreView newspaper recently checked in with C.A.T.S., which has now grown to include basketball, cheerleading, and flag football, and is in four locations in Northern Virginia, with plans to add more sports and locations.

As a sports league for children with developmental disabilities, C.A.T.S. is designed to improve the children's quality of life through team sports participation.

The program's participants and their parents are enjoying the opportunities that C.A.T.S. offers to their families. As reported in the CentreView:

The program teaches social skills, gross motor skills, behavior skills, and confidence. The 100 children who participate are grouped based on abilities, not age range, where socialization and making friends is stressed. "We try to focus on giving high fives and making friends. They're with the same peers every week," [Benavides] said.

She added: "We always make sure everybody scores a basket or a goal and that they get cheered on by the other players...It's easy for us to follow through because they already have an interest in what they are playing."

She said parents have reported that they've seen improvements in their child's gross motor skills, behavior, and flexibility.

Will Plath of Centreville, whose son Alex, 11, is autistic, said he is very impressed with the program. "This is a very good fit for our son," a fifth grader at Union Mill Elementary who is not very verbal, he said. "He always wants to come every week."

Benavides studied Applied Behavior Analysis at George Mason University and takes pride and enjoyment in working with CATS athletes each week. She has played sports all of her life and always hoped to be able to provide that same experience to children with special needs. She notes that her inspiration is her cousin, Camilo, who has an intellectual disability.


Margarita Benavides (right) leads basketball practice for a team of autistic children at the YMCA in Reston. Photo by Steve Hibbard, CentreView.


Read the front page article in CentreView or the page 4 article in the Reston Connection.

For more information on the C.A.T.S. program, see

Photo of Margarita Benavides by Reena Singh/The Connection.


About CEHD

George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) includes two schools: the Graduate School of Education, one of the most comprehensive education schools in Virginia, and the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism. CEHD offers a full range of courses, certificates, and degree programs on campus, online, and on site to more than 4,000 students each year. CEHD is fully accredited by NCATE and all licensure programs are approved by the Virginia Department of Education. George Mason University, located just outside of Washington, DC, is Virginia's largest public research university.

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