Fitness and the Creativity Factor
Today Michelle decided that she was going to push herself across the floor on her belly during our session. The therapist in me wanted to get her back on task, but the creative aspect of fitness, particularly for the autism population, should be a welcome occurrence. With that in mind, I allowed her to keep exploring the floor. Was it exactly what I intended for the session? Not really. At all. But for an 8-year-old with autism who does engage in a good deal of stereotypical activities and not too much creative play, this emerging activity (floor pushing) could have some benefit.
What is the hierarchy of importance in this situation, anyhow? Here is how I break it down (yes, while I’m in session, which often makes me appear as though I’m staring off into space while a kid with autism jumps up and down in front of me):
1) Teaching healthy movement patterns
2) Setting up the environment so those activities are reinforcing
3) Making sure those movement patterns generalize to a variety of situations
4) Incorporating other areas of learning including socialization and communication skills
Now at any given time I could be working on one or all four of these with an individual. The important thing is not to overwhelm the athlete. As a fitness professional, my first goal is always good movement. Socialization is, of course, very important for an adolescent with autism, but in my fitness session it is not the primary concern. Yes, I want my athletes to socialize and to gain self-esteem and more initiative through success in fitness, but prioritization is the key to any successful program.
Re-evaluation of goals is how progress is made. If something good is happening (the independent initiation of creative movement) that was unplanned, I go with it. This is something valuable. I will get my programming in as well, but for a few seconds I want to see where this is going. We spend so much time leading our students and clients with autism. It is very healthy to allow them to lead themselves on occasion. This, incidentally, proves the validity of our own leadership.