The 5 Sins of Fitness
There are some common themes I notice within ineffective fitness/movement/just about any program for the young autism population. Here are the top five:
1) Not beginning at the baseline
Teaching any skill, from throwing a ball to brushing teeth requires an understanding of what the individual can already do. Teaching skills that are too advanced (most sports skills) or specific is a sure way to frustrate both instructor and learner.
2) Not pairing movement activities with other reinforcement
Most of my athletes with autism did not start out enjoying exercise. It takes patience, persistence, and figuring out the right activities. Most of us dislike doing things we are not good at. By pairing or associating exercise activities with something that is ALREADY MOTIVATING, young people with ASD begin to enjoy fitness much more.
3) The “Don’t, No, Can’t” Model of Coaching
For ABA-trained therapists, the “DNC” model of teaching sends chills up and down and back up the spine. When we focus on what a learner is doing INcorrectly rather than what they are doing well, it often results in more errors. There are 1,000 different ways to perform an activity sub-optimally. We want our athletes with autism to come into contact with what they do well, even if it is just standing in one spot.
4) Teaching with Objects rather than Objectives
I like cool stuff, you like cool stuff, we all like cool stuff. When we work with a piece of equipment (weight machines, sport-specific models) and ONLY that piece of equipment, individual goals and needs often go forgotten. If we teach from a CONCEPTUAL framework (the Big 5 movement patterns, teaching skills sets at the pace of the learner) it allows us to create more individualized, successful programs.
5) You Can’t Force Fun
Telling someone they “have to” do something is not a wonderful way to increase their enjoyment of the activity. Having open-ended fitness sessions where we can jump, throw, lift, and play any way we want allows for both naturalistic teaching and a sense of mastery over new activities. Teaching can be structured, but allow for deviation. It may be play in disguise.