Autism Fitness in My Classroom
When we enjoy performing a particular activity, it is likely that we will do it often. Finding ways to create reinforcing active environments provides a positive experience for students. The primary advantage of movement/Active Play-based programs over sports-based is the ability to get very creative and develop individualized goals, even in a group/class setting. Eventually, we want students to have a lot of autonomy over their movement activities; this can lead to self-initiated physical activity, also known as “play.”
Play was once thought of as something frivolous, to be done when other “more important” tasks (work or education-based) were fulfilled. This compartmentalized approach is, in part, responsible for the dwindling of recess, the de-emphasis on general physical education, and the restricted access to local parks and outdoor areas for play. We note that the autism population often has a deficit in creative play. Restricted or hyper-focused interests and stereotypical movement patterns (flapping ,rocking, wandering in circles) are not robust in the way exploratory movement can be. These deficits, as any other educational concern, can be met with good planning, programming, and goal-setting.
Creative play seems like a good thing, but why is it important? Consider abstract thinking, problem solving, motor planning, and short-term memory, all areas in which individuals with ASD often struggle. Developing active play programs that enhance these skills can lead to generalization beyond the PE setting, meaning that the new abilities are not just limited to the classroom or gym.
I wrote this E-book for special educators who may or may not have access to a gymnasium or PE facility. I’ve spent a good amount of time working with my athletes on the spectrum in less-than-ideal fitness environments, often with little space. Innovation and planning are always going to overcome other limitations.
In the Autism Fitness PAC Profile, Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive abilities can be assessed and individual programs developed for each student. This allows the instructor to set goals not only for physical fitness, but the motivation to engage in physical activities and increased ability to follow directions in a fitness/PE setting.
In a classroom, it may be enough just to get a group moving let alone develop individual programs. I would agree that the most important aspect of programming is to begin teaching exercise activities. There are two, and only two ways of doing this successfully:
1) Exercise Courses
2) Exercise Stations
Exercise Courses are great for groups of students who have similar levels of ability. With exercise courses, several movement activities are performed in order, from first to last. Each student completes all (depending, of course, on his/her level of motivation and cooperation) the activities and then comes back to the beginning area.
Exercise Stations may have a similar set-up as Courses, except 1-2 students perform the activity at each station for a specific amount of time (usually 30 sec-2 minutes). Stations allow each participant more time with the particular exercise activity than Courses.
The exercise at each Station can also be regressed (made simpler) or progressed (made more challenging) based on the needs of the individual student. For example, if Chris can squat with the Sandbell, raise it overhead, and then slam it independently, he can perform that activity (squat, press, slam) at the Sandbell station. If Lisa cannot yet perform the overhead press, she may do the squat with the Sandbell without the press and slam, or have an instructor provide hands-on prompting to help her learn the skill
Courses are great for activities that all students have already mastered, or can perform independently. Because they will be moving fairly quickly through each exercise, it is helpful that they already know how to perform the movement correctly to the best of their ability.
To Sum It All Up
Use Circuits When:
- There is a wide range of Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive abilities within the group
- Introducing new exercise activities
- Incorporating socialization into the fitness session (2-3 students at each station)
Use Courses when:
- Enough staff is available to be at each station and/or when working with a higher functioning (Adaptive and Cognitive) group
- The course includes mastered or familiar exercise activities (those the students are already good at and have done before)
- You have a larger space to use for the program
Remember, circuits are 3+ activity stations with 1 or 2 students per station for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes. Students can take breaks as needed at each station and while transitioning to the next activity. Go through the entire circuit (all stations) anywhere from 1 to 5 times. Below are samples with exercise progressions for ach activity from easiest to most challenging:
Station 1 – Low hurdle or cone Step-overs/ High hurdle Step-Overs/ Step-over with arms up
Station 2 – Med ball wall or partner push throw/Push throw with short hop/Squat and push throw
Station 3 – Sandbell overhead push with two hands/Sandbell single arm overhead push/Sandbell overhead push and walk
Station 4 – short hops on spot markers/ Lateral hops/4-corner (forward, back, right/left) hops
Remember that courses go from one exercise activity to another in a continuous loop. When one student is finished with the activity (or at least halfway through), the next student begins. Courses work best with groups of higher functioning students, as the wait time between activities can be an opportunity to wander.
- Start at cones or spot markers
- Bear walk to Sandbell
- Slam Sandbell 3x
- Short hop to med ball
- Push throw med ball to instructor 2x
- Hops back to starting place
- T-rex walk to hurdles
- Hurdle step-overs
- Bear walk to Sandbell
- Sandbell walking overhead push
- Run back to starting place
Eric Chessen’s Autism Fitness in My Classroom will be available soon on Autismfitness.com!
Eric Chessen, M.S., YCS Eric Chessen, M.S. is the creator of the PAC Profile Assessment Toolbox (Autismfitness.com), PAC Profile Workshop series, and consults with special needs programs around the world. Available on www.Autismfitness.com.
More Fitness Fun
- Fitness Fun: Incorporating Fitness into the Classroom
- Five Myths About Autism Fitness
- 5 Ways Fitness Can Improve Autism Symptoms
- Looking for a Fun Family Exercise? How About Parkour!
- Fitness Activities: A Gateway Towards Introducing Social Skills
- The Family Factor of Five: Making Time for Fitness (and Actually Doing It)
- The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fitness Programs
- 4 Exercise Progressions, 5W’s, and an H
- The Folly of Fitness Focus a User’s Guide
- Fitness Challenge
- Waving Not Drowning: The Process of Making Fitness Fun
- Five Fitness Facts for a Fitter Fall
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2014 Magazine