The Cost/Benefits of Fitness
The other evening Michelle, my 8-year-old athlete was bouncing from the living room (where we were performing movement activities) to the couch to the kitchen to the den and then finally, with some due prompting, back to our movement space. Michelle has the tendency, as many children with autism, to get off task and bolt across the room vocalizing nonsensically.
When I first began working with her over a year ago, I was not sure exactly where to begin. Of course, coming into the situation as an Exercise Physiologist with an ABA background meant that my job was what it always is; Get the individual moving well and, eventually, get him/her to enjoy being physically active. Michelle was active, sure, but she was all over the place. It took several sessions for her to become comfortable with me in the room. A few more to establish eye contact, and about a year later she would be willing and able to tolerate more than two exercise activities in a row.
Fitness for the autism population always has direct and indirect, immediate and long-term benefits. Sure, Michelle has developed upper body strength that was previously lacking. She can perform both overhead and push throws with a 2 lb. Sandbell and is closing in on push throws with a 4 pounder. If that does not get you excited as a parent or educator, or for you it does not seem all that relevant to anything else, consider the process it took to get to this ability level. Michelle had to learn:
– To tolerate longer periods of delayed reinforcement
– To follow single and then multi-step directions
– Mathematical skills (counting jumps, throws)
– Prepositions (in, on, under, left, right, up, down, above)
– Discrimination/selection between stimuli of the same class including throws (overhead and push) and jumps (straight up and lateral or sideways)
We tend to categorize different areas of learning (math, science, physical education, music) but often forget that they all, every one, have common factors and require other disciplines to exist. Math without science? Nope, won’t happen. Music without math? Again, won’t occur. Play without planning? Fitness without Physics?
In a great paradox, it is as simple as it is complicated; Fitness for the autism population is as important as any other aspect of development and will, in turn, enhance those other areas as well. Teaching new movement activities is a progressive type of thing, but a necessary, and ultimately fun pursuit.