Five Fitness Facts for a Fitter Fall
Five Fitness Facts for a Fitter Fall
A new school year provides opportunities to build upon existing skills and develop new abilities. While the focus invariably becomes academic and vocational for the ASD and special needs population, it is very, very important that we consider things from a foundational wellness perspective; jargon meaning the healthier and more active an individual is, the better he or she can perform academically, socially, behaviorally, and successfully with real-world tasks. While it may seem, to some, as a “break between important things” or “down time,” physical education is arguably (and the argument is sustainable) the most important part of the day for establishing new abilities and skills.
Recent research has demonstrated that the autism population may be more at risk for lifestyle-related medical complications (Type II Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease) than the neurotypical population due to several issues, including limited access to appropriate physical activity programs, restricted access to regular PE/Adaptive PE classes, and infrequent-to-no engagement in active play during recess or after school. What really needs to happen is a Renaissance of adaptive PE to better serve the special needs population in the US and beyond. Here are five things to consider with regard to increasing physical activity during the new school year:
1) All PE is Adaptive:
This isn’t a semantic argument so much as a reality. Consider a neurotypical, general education class of 20-25 kids. Do they really all have the same skills when it comes to any area, movement included? The typical competitive game is going to exclude the majority of the class. Those few who are motivated to participate will likely dominate the activity, and the rest will make a greater effort attempting to look as though they are making an effort.
Competitive games are fine as long as they make sense (meaning they are appropriate) for the whole class. You’re never going to get the exact amount of motivated participation in a class, but the situation should be structured in a way where everyone has an opportunity. I tend to use activity courses, in which the students go from movement skills to movement skill in succession. It may look similar to this:
- Rope swings
- Med ball wall throw
- jumps to spot markers
- Sandbell slams
I have the students go through the course perhaps 3-5 times, and then change it around. The beautiful part of this type of setup is how it can be scaled for every level of functioning and ability. If one student can throw the ball against the wall with ease, I may have them back up further for a greater challenge. If not, they move closer to the wall for a more successful opportunity. Everyone gets to participate at their own particular (and current) ability.
2) Consider Cognitive Concepts:
Games, which consist of rules, can be abstract and difficult to follow for some individuals. Following multi-step directions, the nuances of particular instructions, and the concepts of winning/losing and points can be difficult, frustrating, or not even register. The complexity of the activity should be directly related to the cognitive abilities of the participants. If you’ve seen an average APE class attempt kickball then you know what I’m talking about. Similar to the idea mentioned above, there will be a variety of learning styles and abilities. If competitive game play is a must (I don’t know why it would be), the inclusion of visual aids (list of rules, pictures) can be a great asset.
3) Intermittent Activity:
I’m a definite advocate of exercise and movement throughout the day. Not just “stand up and stretch” or “draw a W with your index finger,” but throwing a soft medicine ball around the classroom and then adding a balloon to the mix. Or hops. Or keeping a nice long rope in the corner of the room and having the students take turns swinging it. Call it “alternative” or “inappropriate” and then try to argue with the neuroscience that completely supports doing these sort of things for increased cognitive skills and behavior regulation.
4) Social Skills through Movement:
One of the coolest things I ever got to do professionally was collaborate with the school speech pathologist on a program we called “Speech Gym.” The high-school aged students performed a variety of fitness activities and games, then the Speech pathologist reviewed what they did, whom they interacted with, and what types of social instances took place. You want to develop real, meaningful, quality socialization? Have two students call out which medicine ball throw to perform next (push, scoop, overhead), how their partner should get from the blue cone to the red cone 10 feet away (bear walk, crab walk, frog hop).
5) Set Goals:
If, as I constantly rant about (and am so completely right about), physical fitness and active play are as important as other academic, social, life, and vocational skills, set goals. I developed the PAC Profile as a template for schools to develop, re-develop, or completely overhaul their Adaptive PE programs with specific Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive goals as they relate to fitness and movement abilities. Demonstrating that an individual can now perform a bear walk, scoop throw, and six squats, but demonstrating that they are motivated to do them is even niftier.
Physical Education is not a secondary scholastic element, but a necessary foundation for all other skills. Think of healthy living as a hub around which all other skills can be built. While the process of developing and implementing a good adaptive program in the gym or classroom requires some education, effort, and determination (along with the occasional meltdown), the benefits to students are, potentially, lifelong.
Eric Chessen, M.S., YCS, is the creator of the PAC Profile Assessment Toolbox (www.autismfitness.com), PAC Profile Workshop series, and consults with special needs programs around the world. Available on www.autismfitness.com
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2013 Magazine