Life as We Grow It: Fitness as a Life Skill for Special Needs Populations
Fitness as a Life Skill for Special Needs Populations
“Kettlebell and the sandbag,” Nico states as I’m preparing for him to do squats.
“You want to do farmers carries?”
“Yes,” he says in a soft voice but with an assurance that tells me he’s not just randomly calling out an object in the room.
“Awesome. Yes, you can definitely do farmers carries right after this set of squats, okay?”
“Yes,” he says, in the same low but definitive tone. I’m thrilled. Farmers carries involve roughly 3 steps; Pick something(s) heavy up, carry them while maintaining an upright, healthy posture, and put them down with control, sometimes with less control than other times. Farmer’s Carries have fantastic generalization to other life skills, yes, carrying things of course, in addition to maintaining trunk stability and gait pattern (think climbing two or three flights of steps).
When we consider fitness as a life skill rather than something individuals with ASD and related special needs either “like” or “don’t like”, the focus becomes less on “if/should” and more on “how/what.” We’re not just talking about young populations either. Fitness over the lifetime has immense benefits for both short-and long-term development, both proactive and reactive qualities.
That fitness and physical activity are only for young populations disregards the true value of progressive movement programs. As we age, the importance of strength, stability, and motor planning increases, as these are skills that degenerate with age and dis- or non-use. The result is costly, both in quality of life and financially. Consider the healthcare costs for a 55 year old individual with pervasive ASD, diabetes, and compromised mobility. Two out of these three complications are entirely avoidable. They are also, with the proper fitness and nutritional interventions, reversible.
Quality of life can be a general, not-certain-what-we-mean-by-this-but-sounds-good term unless we consider it with respect to what those in our care can do and what skills will allow them to be more independent, healthier (physically and emotionally), and enable them to connect with others (building community) in meaningful ways. We also want to consider stress levels and longevity. What does life look like and feel like for a non-verbal individual in his/her 20’s? 30’s? 60’s? How can we ensure the best possible present and future for them?
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