How to exercise with a disability?
How can exercise be beneficial to disabled or Autistic children with special needs?
How to get your child involved in exercise.
Children challenged with autism typically have several challenges to be met when executing formal fitness exercises. Like many of us, exercise is a challenge; however, children with autism have specific motor pattern deficiencies. Also, children managing autism typically have a natural resistance to formal exercise, including, running, throwing, catching, and many other forms of natural repetitive movements. Physical activities can include any rhythmic, large muscle activities that are continuous in nature (running, walking, squatting, cycling). Levels of activities and subsequent increases in performance are dependent on the initial fitness level of a child and his/her ability to adhere to the exercise program. Even when cognitive abilities are slightly delayed, a child with autism can successfully and enthusiastically participate in regular exercise.
The benefits of regular exercise for children with autism are great in number. Of course, the benefits normally associated with regular exercise, for people with or without special needs, include increased over all body fitness, improved self-esteem, increased ability to manage stress, healthy body composition, flexibility, strength, endurance, and stabilization of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure values. In addition to over all confidence, mental, emotional, and physical health, regular fitness training and modified exercise can prepare a young person for life long better health. The most important benefits of regular exercise for people with special needs, including autism, is the fundamental truth that all people deserve to be better fit and better able—equality in its most simple terms—in essence, the right to compete with "average" healthier and better fit people lifelong.
Specific Challenges for Children with Autism Associated with Formal Regular Exercise
Are the challenges associated with children managing autism too great for regular, consistent, exercise? No. Yes, children with autism have special needs. These needs include an understanding of autism itself, and the specific behavioral differences between average children and children with special needs. Children with special needs, including autism, have typical social, cognitive, and physical movement challenges. Typically, these children move a little slower, are less balanced, and require a great deal of repetitive exercise. Children with autism may also experience deficits in interpersonal relationships, not seeking or readily accepting affection, avoiding play with peers or participation in physical activities, and avoiding eye contact. Exhibiting self-stimulatory or stereotypic behaviors, or being unable to relate normally to other people and situations are also typical of young children with autism. Kids are kids! Most children want to please their parents, they want to succeed in some form, and most importantly—they can!
Children enrolled in an exercise program tailored to meet the needs of a child managing autism will meet several obstacles. Some of these obstacles include mental fatigue or boredom related to overly repetitive exercise modalities, typical frustration and aversion to ‘hands on’ instruction, and dependence on long term guidance for habitual formal exercise. An exercise program for children with special needs, including autism, must adhere to fundamental elements of successful integration and adaptation. These elements include, exercise specificity, modification, habitual execution, and its progressive nature. Typically, exercise programming for children with special needs will focus on basics in human movement—in essence, repetitious human movement. Activities of daily living, including sitting, standing, pushing, pulling, and pressing can be incorporated in a user friendly format to help children successfully increase gross motor skills.
Forming a Plan for Successful Exercise Programming for Children with Autism
After a responsible assessment of a child’s needs we can then detail an appropriate course of action. It is important to realize that all people—including children—have different needs, motivations, abilities, and limitations. While it is true that children with special needs do exhibit many similar obstacles, it is our primary ambition to treat every person, of any age, with complete respect for their dignity and individuality. An assessment of a child’s individual needs begin with the following:
- In depth physical fitness evaluation
- Goal planning and strategic plan for home-based program
- Exercise program development and personal instruction
- Habitual follow-up and progress reports
- Continuing email and phone support for parents
- Scheduled quarterly or monthly "check-ups"
If you are the parent of a child managing Austism or other special needs contact us today to learn more about how we can help you develop a fitness program for you, your child or teenager, and your family.