Motor Planning, ABA, and the Autism Athlete
ABA as a teaching methodology suits fitness and motor planning perfectly for children and young individuals with autism. We always have to develop the pre-requisite skills to any activity or program before being able to perform it independently, and with any success. For many young individuals with autism, the downfall of physical fitness programming looks like this:
Preexisting motor deficits with limited or no intervention —> Enrolled in a sports-based program or sport activity —–> Displays inability to either (or all) succeed physiologically/conceptualize the game or sport/interact with others appropriately—–> “Oh well, I guess sports and physical activity just aren’t for him/her” “He/She hates physical activity” “He/She is not good at sports”
We cannot, particularly with young individuals with autism, expect a single program to work for every child. In fact, most kids won’t play sports beyond their teenage years. What IS crucial is developing a reinforcing environment for movement and exercise. Small, incremental steps leading to more complex and challenging activities.
In EC update 13 I demonstrated a relatively simple jumping sequence. For some athletes with autism, this may be an easy progression, for others, perhaps more difficult. From this point, we can progress to including a variety of different exercises. Check it out:
Every single one of those activities was taught as a discrete trial, or single task. When that task is mastered, we can add it to the “tool box of movement” to create longer chains of movement patterns and activities. The sprinting away, that’s all him.