Overgeneralizing and under-generalizing. How well do kids with autism move?
Some of my athletes with autism are bouncing, running, and hopping across the room. Others require very high rates of reinforcement to stand up and take a few steps. The first athlete is certainly more active, but how functional is that activity?
I think a mistake is made when a young person on the spectrum is considered “physically active” simply because he/she engages in a high rate of energetic self-stimulatory behavior. If these skills cannot generalize or be used in a variety of situations, a deficit exists. This is not a physical deficit, but a cognitive or self-regulatory one. For example, if Tommy runs back and forth across the classroom and jumps up and down, but cannot demonstrate these skills in an exercise and/or play situation, the existing physical skills need to be taught as concepts.
We may take advantage of the pre-existing physical skills by verbally labeling them for the athlete. If Tommy is running across the room and jumping, I many say “Running” and “Jumping” so that he begins to associate the action with the activity.
Consider whether a given movement is functional for an individual with autism. Does the hopping occur in appropriate and novel situations? If not, the physical skill is there and our job is to connect it to other opportunities.
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