Focus and Active Participation for the Autism Athlete
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my big theme/concept is generalization, or the process of performing a skill or behavior in a variety of different settings and environments. Physical fitness is about being prepared and able to function in different situations with different people and, often, with particular stresses. The more equipped we are to deal with adversity, the greater our likelihood of success.
For children with autism, there is so much passive intervention both therapeutically and educationally. I’ve seen a lot of the “let’s-just-get-through-this-quick” type of instruction. A demand is placed, the least amount of effort is made, and the demand is immediately taken away. In developing resilience and tolerance, it is definitely best to begin with short durations and low demands, but that is because we are building a foundation of skills.
One of the most important benefits of fitness for the young autism population is that exercise requires active and extended participation. Variations in a game of catch require focus and adjustment within a single activity. For example, different types of throws (scoop throws, chest pass, overhead) require different movements within the same response class (throwing the ball). Discrimination between similar stimuli help to build the behavioral repertoire, meaning that children have MORE OPTIONS. Having more options generally leads to fewer tantrums, meltdowns, and often a discovery of new activities.
Being ACTIVE and ENGAGED is not fluff stuff in-between the “important” skills. Rather, fitness enhances all of these other processes and abilities, and may be the key to overcoming many obstacles for children with ASD.