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Moments of Motivation: Getting Exercise to “Click”

I’ve been working with “Nick” for about two months. At 15 and with low physical ability (as assessed using the PAC Profile) and high cognitive functioning, he is apt to tell me that he needs “another break” or “more time” between exercise activities. Whether he is actually fatigued, unmotivated (and thus delaying getting back to moving), or a combination of the two (likely), I had to create an environment that would increase the enjoyment factor. Sometimes it is easy to figure out what will work. Sometimes the universe is kind and we stumble upon “The Plane Game.”

As a preemptive declaration, I don’t endorse plane disasters or any joy derived from their occurrence. Nick, however, probably due to his fixation on transportation, finds the whole notion uproarious. At least in medicine ball and Sandbell form.

All this began when he was still sitting on the couch after his break time had elapsed. Rather than argue (which is never an effective solution when you want someone to actually enjoy something), I regressed the standing Sandbell throw to a seated one. He could still sit but was now involved in catching and throwing the Sandbell back to me.  Building on this, I picked up the 4 lb. Hoover medicine ball (a smaller version of Dynamax’s 14″ diameter ball) and began tossing it to Nick as well. Somewhere between throws the ball collided with the Sandbell, and Nick was elated. He began asking me to name destinations where the ball would be “landing” and his objective was to knock it out of the sky.

I’m reasonably certain that Nick has no affinity for actual air disasters, and it is often difficult for individuals with ASD to learn the social norms for appropriate topics. They may, MAY, laugh about situations involving death or people getting hurt, or show ambivalence where a more emotional response would be warranted. This plane crash game we were inventing was/is not indicative of his desire to see planes go down, but likely a combination of his thing for planes (and trains, oh SO into trains) and the excitement of something “large scale” happening.

From the regression of the Sandbell throws (couch versus standing), we were then able to progress to a completely new activity with a creative aspect, greater duration of movement, and increased motivation. Eventually (within two sessions), I progressed the game to a stand-up version as well.

Had I been argumentative with Nick; “No, you have to stand up and do exercise now, it’s good for you.” I probably would have gotten not much accomplished other than him disliking exercise and me. The goal is not to “get through the session,” but the elevate the experience such that it increases physical, adaptive, and cognitive abilities within the realm of physical activity. This can take some time. How long depends on finding the motivating factor(s), which are not always immediately obvious.

This week, Nick will again request “Plane Crash,” and I will happily agree, once he completes the first standing activity (probably a medicine ball swing or squat variation). Beginning to establish contingencies between the “I want you to” and “You want to” is not only the basis of a functional relationship between an instructor and learner, but a gateway towards making something that once held “complete suck” status almost nearly kinda cool.

Live Inspired,


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