Fitness and autism are two topics that are growing increasingly important.
They also represent two populations that need to begin interacting.
When I started Autism Fitness nearly a decade ago, parents and educators did not often recognize a link between the tremendous benefits of fitness and increasing abilities for young people with autism.
As fitness became more understood and valued, the trends in exercise programs for young people began to grow. Still, fitness and autism were not yet matched up on a regular basis.
Why Not Bring the Fitness and Autism Populations Together?
Part of the problem is a big informational void between the fitness profession and the autism population.
Parents, educators, and therapists now understand how valuable fitness programs can be for those with autism, but do not have much practical information in fitness and autism programs together.
Add to that the difficulties in accounting for adaptive/behavioral and cognitive issues, where fitness and autism appear to require way too much planning.
There is also a good deal of confusion between fitness and sports. Most of the young people I work with through Fitness and autism are not interested in team sports such as baseball, soccer, or football. Sports tend to be difficult for individuals with ASD from physical, adaptive, and cognitive perspectives.
Understanding the rules of a game, who is on your team, and what the objectives/goals are can be overwhelming.
Physically, sports require a level of strength, speed, agility, and coordination that many young people with autism lack.
So what is the right approach for bringing fitness and autism together?
Fitness and Autism Need Foundational Movement and Play
Physical health and wellness is a lifetime process. Kids may not always play a particular sport, but if they have motivation for and access to fitness activities and play, there is a good chance they will have an enriched life into adulthood.
General fitness and autism work well because general fitness activities based upon developing strength, stability, power, coordination, and flexibility can be created for any individual or group.
A superior approach over "watered down" soccer or baseball, general fitness and autism programs can not only meet physical needs for young people with autism, but adaptive and cognitive needs as well.
When I began working with 12-year-old "Frank" about 6 years ago, he would only remain on-task for about 2o seconds. After than, he would wander around, or jump up and down while hitting himself repeatedly in the chest.
Rather than trying to fit him into an existing model, I developed a fitness activity program that met his needs first. Successful fitness and autism programs both rely on an individual-centered approach.
Our first goal was to increase Frank's ability to attend to physical activities. But what activities to use? Rather than focus on kicking a ball or swinging a bat, I chose exercises that would help to increase general abilities.
This would ensure Frank being able to perform better in a variety of daily living tasks and eventually find exercise fun.
Over several months, Frank developed the ability to perform exercise longer, and became much more proficient in the fitness activities that we did. Combining fitness and autism requires good information about the individual and his/her level of abilities in 3 main areas:
Assessing these 3 abilities provides everything you need to know about putting together a fitness program for an individual with autism.
The Autism Fitness PAC Profile (www.PACProfile.com) enables parents, educators, and fitness professionals to put together an individualized fitness program for any student, client, or young person with ASD or other developmental disability.
It is no wonder that fitness and autism are starting to be mentioned in the same sentences.
The goal, now that many understand the absolute need for fitness programs in the autism community, is to understand what a great exercise program includes, and how to ensure that each young person with autism has access to exercise.
Fitness and autism should be a united goal.
He lectures, provides workshops for parents and teachers, and creates informational products to help understand the link between fitness and autism.
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