Autism and Sports : An Analogy
Remember those Choose-your-own-adventure books? It may be an 80’s thing. At key points in the story, the reader had to choose which course of action the main character would take. Typical of the genre, a good decision would yield treasure (the shiny gold ‘n ruby sort) in unimaginable quantities. The poorer choice had the protagonist eaten by a squid or trapped in a volcano or trapped in a squid in a volcano.
Sports as a single choice for physical activity are a bad choice. They won’t lead to trampling by ostriches, but they do not provide young people with autism the complete benefits of general or play-based physical activity. Sports are not bad, but limited. There is little room for creativity, the movements are specific only to that sport (I have yet to see anything in soccer that will increase the ability to carry a load of laundry), and sports rules and concepts (Ball –> Net –> Point) are very abstract, not exactly the strong area for many young people with autism.
Sports (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc.) are culturally viewed as the “top of the pyramid,” or the best possible movement activities one can do. You’re not an “athlete” unless you are competing in a sport. In reality, sports are a branch on a tree. The roots and trunk of that tree are general fitness and play, both of which have been overlooked for both PE and Adaptive PE, replaced with sports-based curricula. Many PE and APE programs are cut entirely, as it is evident that young people no longer need to move.
We have more sports leagues than any other time in American history, and yet a generation of young people who are succumbing to lifestyle-related illnesses, medical complications, and poor general physical ability. It should be abundantly clear that sports are not the answer. Consider sports from a long term perspective as well. The vast majority of neurotypical children, if they do play sports, will play until around middle school. The number barely reaches double-digits into high school, and a small percentage will continue into college. I don’t have exact statistics for the autism population, but I’m going to be brave and assume it is far less.
In my Autism Fitness utopia, there is a systematic change that…
1) Provides PE for all young people with autism. I don’t even like the term “Adapted.” Everyone has different physical skills, apart from those at the highest, most elite level of performance.
2) Provide PE based on developing movement (push, pull, squat, locomotion), skills (strength, speed, power, coordination, stability, endurance, fluidity), and play (the initiation of movement because it is reinforcing)
I’ve been working on it about a decade now. More progress to be made.