Fitness and physical activity have been highlighted as areas of both high importance and, unfortunately, low availability for the young autism population. Recent studies have suggested that individuals with autism are now at a greater risk for Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and various other preventable lifestyle-related medical issues.
A dialogue is needed between the fitness/active play profession and the autism community, including parents, therapists, educators, and other professionals. Physical activity is a necessary part of optimal development, whether discussing learning, behavior, self-esteem, independence, vocational ability, or social skills.
Eric Chessen, Founder of Autism Fitness has just released new editions of the Autism Fitness E-book and Bike to the Future. Both of these information products serve as the perfect guide for professionals and parents seeking to develop fitness and active lifestyle programs for young people with autism.
Each book provides both concepts and real-world application of movements, behavior support, and teaching strategies. As fitness is perhaps the most overlooked area in terms of academic and developmental support for the autism population, these products could not have come at a more ideal or meaningful time.
Having spent over a decade developing and implementing successful fitness programs for both individuals and groups on the autism spectrum, Eric Chessen created the PAC Profile method; essentially a flow chart for optimal fitness programming.
Taking into consideration that providing effective physical activity programming for those with ASD includes not one, but three distinct variables, Eric has broken each of these categories down for the reader. Understanding each of the three areas of functioning is absolutely essential for making a program both fun and effective.
The Bike to the Future E-book focuses on developing the skills necessary to ride a bicycle. After receiving a good amount of requests from parents on the subject of teaching children with autism to ride safely and independently, Eric developed the Bike to the Future program based on his PAC Profile methods. The teaching strategies are designed to minimize stress and frustration both for the instructor/parent and the soon-to-be bike rider. Some of the key ideas include:
- Step-by-step strategies for proper bike riding movement
- Motivation and reinforcement
- Ongoing behavior support
- How to encourage without being overwhelming
- General exercises that carry over to bike-riding specific abilities
- Fading physical prompts or “how to initiate independence”
The Autism Fitness E-book provides many innovative exercises that have been used with great success among athletes of highly varied abilities. Rather than focusing on sports-related activities, the Autism Fitness E-book delivers an array of general fitness activities that can be used in the adaptive PE, playground, home, park, and fitness setting.
One of the most exciting aspects of the included exercises is that they can be progressed (made more challenging) or regressed (made simpler) depending on the needs of the athlete. Rather than categorize by age, which is not necessarily the best predictor of physical skills, the Autism Fitness E-book demonstrates how specific exercises can be made appropriate for any level of skill.
While we all “know” that fitness is important for young people, it is a whole new enterprise when trying to put together the “right: program for an individual or group of individuals with autism. The “how-to’s” of programming can be elusive, particularly because so many PE and Adapted PE programs focus on sports-based activities, which are most often difficult or entirely uninteresting for those with ASD.
From a long-term wellness perspective, most individual will not be playing team sports much beyond middle school, which begs the question; “How do we develop fitness programs that will lead to a lifetime of healthy, active living?”
The Autism Fitness E-book addresses this important concern both with programing and positive behavior support strategies. An integral piece of the programming is to make exercise reinforcing over time, meaning that it will be something that individuals want to do instead of have to do. When we enjoy physical activity, it is far more likely that we will continue to engage in fitness activities and seek out new movement opportunities longer into our lifespans.
Of equal importance is the development and maintenance of strength, stability, and coordination over time. These are areas that are often deficits for those with autism, and skills which the E-book targets directly.
With the new school season upon us, it is the perfect time to begin introducing fitness into the lives of young people with autism. The Autism Fitness E-Book and Bike to the Future can serve as starting points that not only demystify some common misconceptions about what fitness is, but provide step-by-step, practical, and fun solutions for bringing fitness into a variety of different environments, from the classroom to the fitness center.
Autism Fitness continues to be the leading authority in fitness and physical activity programming for the autism population.
Eric Chessen, M.S., is the Founder of Autism Fitness. An exercise physiologist with an extensive background in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Eric has been developing successful fitness programs for the autism population for over a decade. In addition to working with his athletes, Eric consults with and provides ongoing education for professionals around the world. More information is available at www.AutismFitness.com