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A very special game

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames
Calgary, AB -- On Saturday, Jari Peterson took in his first NHL game, watching the Calgary Flames kick-start their offence by handing the Edmonton Oilers a 5-3 loss in the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Donning his Flames jersey, the 20-year-old leaped out of his seat every time Calgary put the
Jari Peterson attending his first NHL game.
puck past Nikolai Khabibulin, grinned every time one of the Oilers were flattened against the glass and joined in the round of applause given to the Flames each time the killed off a penalty.

From an outsider's perspective, the situation may not seem like anything out of the ordinary. Peterson, who is named after former NHLer Jari Kurri, has been surrounded by hockey his entire life.

His father once played and is an avid fan of the sport. Numerous family members participate in hockey in varying capacities, ranging from playing to administrative duties. His sister is a sports journalist. In fact, for someone who didn't know Peterson, it may seem odd that he has just recently taken in his first NHL game.

However, he suffers from autism, a neurological disorder that impacts an individual's communication abilities, social skills and behavior.

For most of his life, Peterson was unable to attend even a minor hockey game due to the severe nature of his disorder. It has only been in the past few years that he has been able to attend his friends and family members games without having what his mother, Penny Peterson, calls a "sensory overload." She said his ability to sit through an entire professional hockey game speaks volumes.

"What may seem to be an ordinary activity to most people can be a milestone or a major accomplishment to a developmentally disabled person and their family," continued Penny.

"An event like an NHL game is often far too overwhelming for the disabled person to handle so finally being able to attend one as a family is a huge symbol of the progress made in adapting to societal expectations."

Something as small as watching a video on the Enmax Energy Board can be incredibly overwhelming for those suffering from a disorder such as autism.

"Things we take for granted are the things that have the greatest impact on these people," Penny Peterson said. "Watching someone experience a landmark in their life and seeing them take in every detail puts life in perspective. You're literally watching someone conquer their version of Everest when they sit through flashing lights or loud crowd noises."

Peterson's verbal communication skills are severely impaired so when questioned about the game, he cut right to the chase about his favourite part of the night: the Flames goals and the celebration that followed.

"I liked the fire a lot," he said, referring to the bursts of flame that shoot out after the hometown team scores. "And the cheering. I liked the game. It was fun."

His mother expanded on his summary of the game.

"Between the action on the ice and the variety of stimuli in the arena, Jari enjoyed himself tremendously. Not only is it a great achievement and pleasure for him to be able to partake in such an event but for our family as a whole.

"For anyone who has a developmental disorder or the family of someone afflicted with one, something as commonplace as attending a hockey game takes on a whole far more significant meaning - it gives an indication of how much the person has grown emotionally and mentally."
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