Just Good Enough Sucks
Many of the Adaptive Physical Education programs for students with autism are either afterthoughts or based on a foundation of sports. There seems to be a trend of “Oh yeah, we should add gym class too…” Which culminates in a group of kids with autism running around the gym space in circles for a half hour while several brightly colored rubber balls go unused, or used for stereotypical bouncing or tapping. Then then teacher, or even worse, the Adaptive PE instructor reports back to parents; “We played kickball today!”
No, you didn’t. And the students got virtually nothing out of it either. Just because the gym is there, and the students are in the gym, and there happens to be equipment near those students, does not make for an acceptable or beneficial Fitness or Physical Education program. It is fortunate that more schools, administrators, teachers, therapists, and parents are recognizing that fitness and physical health need to be part of the daily routine for young people with autism. Those programs, however, must be developed with appropriate goals and taught in a way that supports actual learning and eventual enjoyment of movement. Anything less is mostly a waste of time.
I always come back to The TWO BIG QUESTIONS for any and all programs (autism fitness related and otherwise):
What do you SAY you do? Vs. What do you ACTUALLY do?
Does the Adaptive PE program:
– Take into account baseline physical skills?
– Teach pushing, pulling, bending, rotation, and locomotion?
– Focus on mastering and generalizing those skills to new activities and situations?
– Reinforce successful completion of targets?
– Are you working around OBJECTS (equipment) or OBJECTIVES (individual goals)?
The follow-up would take into account the two major goals of any fitness program for the autism population:
-Are you increasing physical aptitude?
-Is physical activity becoming reinforcing?
Sure, it seems a lot to consider, but certain measures are always needed for success. It is not enough to have a gym, have some equipment, and have students present. Optimizing life skills and health for the autism population absolutely requires physical fitness. And real physical education programs require planning, practice, and dedication.