Compartmentalizing Education and Why it Sucks: Part II
Priorities are going to dictate how programming time is spent. How educational time is spent is subject to the “What you SAY you do versus what you ACTUALLY do” test (they should match up). In part I of this writing I covered the misconception of fitness as an “intervention” strategy for students with autism who “need to lose weight,” as opposed to a life skill program that, in addition to enhancing a variety of physical, adaptive, and cognitive skills, is mandated both federally and by state. Yes. Not only are PE/Adaptive PE programs nifty little ideas, but they are required. Most educational programs won’t be cited for having inadequate APE programming, but it is a nice argument point for parents to bring up at an IEP meeting.
Back to prior priorities.
If you accept the premise of Part I; that extreme separation of different educational/vocational programming causes missed opportunities, then we can discuss the problem of time. It’s nice when someone says how important fitness is, or how great it would be if their students with autism had access to a regular fitness program. It sort of kind of very much sucks when they don’t actually implement anything ever. And it happens (or doesn’t happen) a lot. I categorize information into Concept (how to think about something) and Concrete (what to do about it). The obstacles in the way of implementing fitness programs for students with ASD is typically a combo deal; a lack of understanding what a fitness/PE program should include and how/when to run fitness programming.
Typically, if there is no specified gym time, time itself becomes the limiting factor. Between educational, social, vocational, and life skill programming, the school day is worn away. If that 45 minute period for PE is not built into the schedule, those 45 minutes don’t exist. BUT…
I guarantee there are nine five-minute segments throughout the day. And movement throughout the day is good, very good, for students with ASD because:
1) It provides exposure to a novel activity
2) Is not overwhelming because of extended duration
3) Can circumvent the issue of physically low-functioning students becoming fatigued
4) Can serve as a transition activity between other academic tasks
What if during social skill time a medicine ball activity was used to facilitate eye contact and reciprocity? What if rope swings were used as a way to learn counting, and even addition and subtraction? When you use fitness as part of the learning process, the “lack of time” argument dissolves, because physical education becomes part of general education. The obstacle was finding time for fitness when academics, social skills, etc. took priority, but using fitness activities as curricula builds them into the day. You don’t have to exchange one time block for another, rather restructure the blocks that already exist.
We (those of us who know better which I imagine includes all of you reading this) realize that the general education model of “preparing students for standardized tests” does not exactly highlight the rather important concepts of critical thinking, creative problem solving, the scientific model of discovery, and/or individual learning styles. It also is one of the main contributors to the compartmentalization problem, where in the real world everything is related and in school everything is taught separately. While we eagerly berate and attempt to topple the current model, the answer is; If it is important, build it in.
Time can be a limiting factor or a helpful guide. Knowing you have all day to get something done may provide enough procrastination to ward off completion. Having exactly 55 minutes, however, demands focus. Autism Fitness programming relies on a careful balance of structure (teaching) and controlled chaos (meaningful play), using time as a guide for both. One of my athletes may only be able to follow directions for 30 seconds before she needs to wander around and regroup. My goal is to increase structured time so we can enhance her physical skills, but in the process, it is necessary to improve adaptive skills. You can use time to your benefit by finding better ways (and this can be an individual student thing) to teach specific skills. Me, as the Autism Fitness guy, I like to use movement activities in the place of sitting idle. Partly because I don’t sit all too well, but also because it works.
The time component of educational compartmentalization can provide the notion that providing fitness/PE programming is just not possible because the day is already filled. I suggest that upon further inspection, a few 3-5 minute cracks can be found in that stone wall. Filling in with some fitness activities is a good gateway towards promoting more physical activity. Baby steps do lead to bear walks.