The Fitness Friendly Classroom
The Fitness Friendly Classroom
You have no more excuses. There will be no more “We don’t have the budget for Physical Education” or “Most of the kids with autism don’t like sports.” We can comfortably reduce “There’s no time for physical education” to an ignorable whisper, and “He/She can’t even throw a ball” will be folk lore.” After years of research suggesting that fitness is important, after the piles of studies demonstrating that the young autism population has an abundance of gross motor deficits, it is time to introduce fitness into the Special Needs classroom.
So how does a classroom teacher who may not have any inclination about fitness or physical education develop a program? After nearly ten years of work, I’ve finally sat down (difficult enough for me to do) and mapped out how exactly I assess, create, and teach exercise to my athletes with autism and other developmental disabilities. The final product is called the PAC Profile, and it is perfect for teachers who want to implement fitness into the classroom.
First we must consider baseline abilities from Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive perspectives. This is what was missing in all the other gross motor screens available. Why? Let’s use one of my athletes, Frank, as an example. I tell Frank to do “Three forward jumps,” he looks at me then turns around and begins to bounce a stray ball. Now, the first conclusion may be that Frank cannot jump. Yet Frank can be counted on to engage in a stereotypical behavior that involves jumping back and forth across the room, with many more than three forward jumps at a time.
Physically (The “P” in PAC Profile), Frank has the skill set to jump three times. Now, from the Adaptive and Cognitive perspectives, a couple of questions need answering;
- Is Frank motivated to perform the jumps in the fitness situation?
- Does Frank know that “jump” refers to the actual activity of jumping?
There are a couple more questions that need answering before committing to a specific strategy, but the previous two are a good start. We must identify whether the deficit is physical, adaptive, cognitive, or a combination of these three. If Frank has the physical ability to jump but the term “jump” does not yet represent jumping, he probably won’t know what to do when I, or any instructor, say “Jump,” regardless of how many times we say it. If Frank is more of a visual learner, he may benefit from the instructor demonstrating the jump for him. This would enable Frank to begin associating the word “Jump” with the actual activity of jumping.
So we have one partial assessment down but a classroom of anywhere, usually, between four and twelve students, needs a program that takes into consideration a wide range of physical, adaptive, and cognitive abilities. Is classroom fitness still possible? It absolutely is. The quick, article-condensed version involves one of the two ways to incorporate with groups of special needs individuals; set up stations.
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