Initiating Fitness programs for children with autism
I work with a wide range of ages and abilities of children and young adults with autism. It is very seldom that I can make blanket or general statements about how to work with a specific age group. What I have found to be helpful is breaking down functional abilities of children with autism into 3 main categories:
– Physical functioning
– Self-regulatory abilities
Using these three criteria as guidelines, we can successfully develop, implement, and tweak fitness programs for ANY individual child or group with autism. If I have a teenager with high cognitive processing abilities who gets frustrated when he/she cannot perform an activity, I may eliminate all competitive aspects from the program and focus on developing the foundational movements with plenty of encouragement and verbal praise.
Using these three criteria can help parents, coaches, and fitness professionals develop programs that focus not only on the immediate needs of an individual with autism, but long-term goals as well. It is often overwhelming to consider what exercises or activities to start with first in a program, however by using these three aspects of functioning as a guideline, an instructor/parent can consider areas of strength and areas that require more focus. Starting out with basic activities (medicine ball or Sandbell catches, carries, and tosses, simple floor-based movements) helps to develop the physical prerequisites, confidence, and pairs exercise with reinforcement.