My Autism Camp All-Stars
Well, I finished up my last day working with some new autism athletes in a camp program in NY. In two short weeks, the campers became familiar with all manner of bear walks, hopping, throwing Dynamax balls and Sandbells around, and having fun doing it.
There are a couple of reasons for success in such a short duration. Each class was structured. There was a definite beginning and ending, and with the help of some very dedicated and persistent counselors, the activities were consistent and the expectations clear.
Making expectations very clear for children with autism is essential to their success in learning to perform ANY skill independently. It is always important to remember that one of the most prevalent deficits in autism is understanding contingencies between antecedents (what happens before) and consequences (what happens after).
With too many sports and PE programs, the situation becomes another “Run around the gym” case, where the tasks are, initially, too difficult or abstract for the young athletes, the expectations unclear, and the teaching methodology inappropriate. You can call it whatever you want: “Sports for kids with autism,” “Adaptive PE,” “Awesometastic Olympic Ultimate Superstars.” I call it gym and if we have to start with standing on two star-shaped spot markers and standing while looking at the instructor for a count of three (as was the case with at least one athlete) so be it. Fine. Great. We are building a foundation of NECESSARY skills.
I am proud of my athletes in the camp program. Not because they showed up. Not because they were led through a series of activities. I am proud because each one was given a situation in which they had to do something new, and each athlete demonstrated improvement in two short weeks. I am proud that many could enter and leave the room with a prompted but audible “Hi/Bye Eric” and that one little girl absolutely tore up the obstacle course with bear walks, jumps, and Sandbell tosses. Children and young adults with autism are capable when provided with appropriate instruction and the right activities. It is our responsibility as professionals, educators, and parents to challenge, teach, and progress.