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Obstacles and Troubleshooting in Autism Fitness

Sometimes my athletes try a new exercise or activity and have difficulty “getting” it. It may be a case of physical deficit (does not yet have the strength, coordination, or balance to perform the movement), or a cognitive issue (language is too complex and the task is not clear). These situations are where the difference is made between good coaching/teaching and, well, “other” is a proper term.  That brings me to one of my favorite topics:

“What a program/instructor says it does versus what ACTUALLY goes on”

Here is a common scenario in classrooms, physical education, and home programs for children and young adults with autism

Instructor: “Pick up the ball and throw it.”

Student: [jumps up and down and then walks away]

Instructor: “Oh, okay, you want to jump? We’ll jump instead”

Then the instructor will go back and tell a parent or write in the log notes that they worked on throwing, even if the instructor is the only one throwing the ball. The problems are several and the implications, as legendary comedian Bill Hicks said, “…are vast.” So four months later the log notes still say “Throwing a ball” and our student is no closer to mastering the skill.

I am a great proponent of free play, however there is a point when teaching new skills is critical to development, both physically and cognitively.  Is teaching a child with autism to throw a medicine ball more difficult and nuanced than teaching a neurotypical child? Usually, yes. Does the ASD child still DESERVE to learn the skill appropriately? I should not even dignify my own question with an answer.

Below is a video of one of my athletes (who is so often the semi-willing hero of my new exercise ideas) having some difficulty squatting to a Dynamax medicine ball and Throwing a Sandbell.

EC Blog Sept 3 09 I from Eric Chessen on Vimeo.

My Athlete is having some problems differentiating between slamming the Sandbell and Squatting to the ball. Teaching each step separately provides him with 1) Enough errorrless exposure to the exercise to understand the contingency and 2) Enough opportunities to master the exercise (at least for today).

Here is a second video, taken minutes later, of him absolutely dominating this complex movement pattern:

EC Blog Sept 03 II from Eric Chessen on Vimeo.

That all occurred in a single 45 minute session. What we have to remember is that young individuals with autism ARE intelligent, ARE capable, and it is OUR responsibility to use a best practices approach to developing new skills.

Live Inspired,


Beginning OCTOBER 1st: Autism Fitness Into Greantess Classes in NYC! Email me ( for info.