Rudy (2010) gives us a plan, “Get out, explore the community & have fun!” She tells us that individuals and families with autism are often too busy with therapies and doctors to think about physical fitness. Also, that Adaptive Physical Education programs at school start to fade away as students become teens and young adults.
< My Thoughts > “Get out, explore, have fun…”
Families are sometimes too focused on what it will be like when/after the ‘therapy’ is successful. Goals and priorities are necessary, but try to have ‘happy’ moments each and every day. Our Sonny likes to walk outdoors on a little pathway that we have created in our yard. He finds the interesting things which we have along the way. Things that we see we name, and stop to chat about.
There are flowers to smell, plants to touch, birdhouses with occupants to watch. And of course, we just enjoy feeling the wind and seeing it blowing the colored ribbons and wind chimes which we have tied in the trees. These things can be labeled for those with higher learning abilities. Always, observe all necessary health and safety precautions when exploring the outdoors.
Menear, et al. (2006) tell us that their informal observations have shown that many students with autism who have low motor skills and few fitness abilities will initially have difficulty traversing typical school or park playground equipment without assistance. Poor eye-hand coordination, trouble combining multiple motor skills into one task, and any structured balance related physical activities, as well as participating in group activities can be difficult.
< My Thoughts > “…trouble combining multiple motor skills into one task.”
Such as, combining walking with stopping to look at interesting shapes, or listening to new sounds. Try taking along colored glasses, a magnifying glass, music, favorite toys and/or books. Take time to stop to explore and investigate, and don’t forget to bring music, snacks and drinks. Have frequent breaks, with opportunities for clarification and allowing choices. Have fun and take time to smell the roses.
A study done by Ghaziuddin & Butler (1998) included 8 subtests for different parts of the anatomy. They were gross motor tests for running speed and agility, balance, bilateral coordination, upper-limb coordination, and strength. There were tests for fine motor skills, for response speed, visual-motor control, and upper-limb speed and dexterity. So, this doesn’t exactly answer the question of why clumsiness is often observed in persons with autism, but it does give one an idea of the many variables involved.
< My Thoughts > “…an idea of the many variables involved.”
Accomplishing ‘motor-mind’ activities is extremely complex and complicated. Even the simplest of activities involve both ‘fine’ and ‘gross’ motor skills, a sophisticated ‘sensory system’; plus, both external and internal bodily communication, to say the least.
According to Zhao & Chen (2018) providing children with ASD the opportunity to participate in physical activities improves their physical condition, their self-esteem, social skills, and their behavior. Often the child does not know how to interact with others in order to have that physical activity experience, but can be taught. And eventually children will exercise ‘spontaneously’, recognizing the need for that activity. Participants in the study had also shown improvement in parent/child interaction; plus, the child’s interest in ‘otherworldly’ activities.
< My Thoughts > “…recognizing the need…”
Figuring out what your child can or cannot do physically, shouldn’t be a stressful activity but one of enjoyment. And, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Unless the activity is just too difficult or stressful, the child should begin to show interest.
Sonny often uses his peripheral vision to check out what we are doing. If we start bouncing a ball in the living room, he’ll stroll by several times, acting uninterested, but taking a peek. Then, he goes in his room for a while, listening to the sound of the bouncing ball. Soon, he comes out and wants to hold the ball. That could be ‘it’ for the day, but we leave the ball out where he can access it.
The next day, he may go over, pick up the ball, and bring it to me. He much prefers to have us do the activity while he watches, easily laughing when you miss the bounce, making the ball roll across the room. When that happens, we invite him to sit on the floor near us, rolling the ball back and forth between us. He begins participating in the ball rolling activity without realizing it. When he catches on to our plan, he gives us a ‘look’, gets up and goes back to his room. And so, it goes.
Jean (2006) Figuring out the appropriate, safe and comfortable exercise for your child is important for lifelong fitness. The right exercise can also improve brain function, coordination and even memory. ‘Cross-center-line’ training means you’re using both sides of the brain. ‘Cross-lateral’ movements are those in which arms and legs cross over from one side of the body to the other. An example would be to bend over at waist and tap right hand to left foot. Stand back up and then bend and tap left hand to right foot. This ‘unsticks’ the brain and energizes learning.
< My Thoughts > “…energizes learning.”
Look for different ways to ‘energize learning’. Sonny enjoys attending an outdoor aquatic program, sponsored by the City Parks & Recreation. He has ‘somewhat’ participated in a “T” ball group that we found at a nearby park. Both programs allow us to participate with him, so it goes surprisingly well. We even ‘practice’ ‘T’ ball at home in the backyard, a ‘natural setting’ for him where he feels most comfortable. Look for 'Challenger' or 'Adaptive' programs near you. This is a great way to involve siblings, too.
Hall (2011) had to worry about going to 9th grade at Windward. But first, I had to worry about going to a new summer camp; Gold Arrow Camp. It was disheartening to plummet into yet another unfamiliar situation where I had no friends or comfort and consequently felt alone and out-of-place. I guess I still came across as ‘different’, even with all the progress I had made.
That hike was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I had never seen natural running water before or the open-air splendor of the mountains. Along with members of the group, I carried a seventy-pound backpack for five days, a major accomplishment for me.
But, when we got back from that hike, I wanted to crawl under a rock by myself whenever somebody tried to talk to me. I stayed in the cabin a little longer. When I did go out, I chose solitary activities – sailing, horseback riding, bike riding – and I avoided the group activities as much as I could.
< My Thoughts > “…crawl under a rock…”
Zero interest in group or ‘new’ activities for many children and young adults may be due to ‘anxiety’ about new things, and/or fear of failure. Perhaps carrying a backpack, or wearing a weighted vest could help with anxiety. Learn about your child, know him/her; know their autism, while you explore the outdoors, and their abilities.
Ghaziuddin, M. & Butler, E. (1998). Clumsiness in Autism & Asperger Syndrome: A Further Report; Journal of Intellectual Disability Research; V42:1, p43-48.
Hall, J. (2011). Am I Still Autistic: How a Low-Functioning, Slightly Retarded Toddler Became the CEO of a Multi-Million Dollar Corporation; eBook Edition.
Jean, D. (2006). Brain Exercises; Retrieved online from –http://drjean.org/html/monthly_act/act_2006/03_Mar/pg04.html/
Menear, K., Smith, S., et al. (2006). A Multipurpose Fitness Playground for Individuals with Autism; Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance; V77:9, p20-25.
Rudy, L. (2010). Get Out, Explore & Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most Out of Community Activities; eBook Edition.
Zhao, M. & Chen, S. (2018). The Effects of Structured Physical Activity Program on Social Interaction & Communication for Children with Autism; BioMed Research International, V2018, Art.ID 1825046.