"THERE IS A LIGHT IN US ALL ,WE JUST NEED TIME TO ALLOW TIME TO LET IT SHINE"
Colin Donnelly: ITEC Qualified Personal Trainer,Fitness Instructor & Gym Instructor. IYCA Certified International Youth Fitness Specialist.
Supporting Parents, Children and Teens on the autism spectrum as well as those in rehab through physical exercise and activities improving their health,fitness mobility ,and ultimately raising their self-esteem.
PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND AUTISM :
Physical exercise benefits any child, but it has particular benefits for children on the autism spectrum who experience problems with communication abilities, social skills, and behavior. This can show in problems with: • Fine motor skills • Sensory integration issues • Poor attention span • Poor coordination • Visual tracking of moving objects • Slow reaction times.
Despite its many benefits, exercise is often overlooked by parents due to their own inactive lifestyle or being too busy. But when physical exercise is cheap, safe, and healthy, it should be one of the first interventions for a child on the autism spectrum. Motivating your child may be difficult at first, and you may need to shape the exercise around an interest they have. Once it forms part of the child's routine, motivation is usually no longer a problem.
Team sports would have to be carefully considered due to complexities of team work and communication that may overwhelm a child on the autism spectrum. However, with the right timing this can be part of your child's education and development of social skills.
Ideally you should incorporate time into your lifestyle to exercise with your child. Below are some useful kinds of exercise for different issues arising from Autism Spectrum Disorders.
PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM The Proprioceptive System helps children (and adults) to locate their bodies in space. Autistic children often have have poor proprioception and will need help to develop their coordination. Therapy may include playing with weights, bouncing on a trampoline or a large ball, skipping or pushing heavy objects.
VESTIBULAR SYSTEM The Vestibular System is located in our inner ear. It responds to movement and gravity and is therefore involved with our sense of balance, coordination and eye movements. Therapy can include hanging upside down, rocking chairs, swings, spinning, rolling, somersaulting, cartwheels and dancing. All these activities involve the head moving in different ways that stimulate the vestibular system. Be careful to observe the child carefully to be sure the movement is not over stimulating.
Back and forth movement appears less stimulating than side-to-side movement. The most stimulating movement tends to be rotational (spinning) and should be used carefully. Ideally activities will provide a variety of these movements. A rocking motion will usually calm a child while vigorous motions like spinning will stimulate them. Merry-go-rounds, being tossed on to cushions or jumping trampolines can be real favorites with some children. Experimenting and careful introduction of each activity is the way to go.
LEARNING NEW SKILLS INVOLVING MOVEMENT Skills such as tying shoe laces or riding a bike can be difficult as they involve sequences of movements. Therapy to help in this area may use swimming, mazes, obstacle courses, constructional toys and building blocks.
DIFFICULTY WITH USING BOTH SIDES OF THE BODY TOGETHER Crawling, hopscotch, skipping, playing musical instruments, playing catch and bouncing balls with both hands are some of the many activities that can help with bilateral integration.
HAND AND EYE COORDINATION Activities may include hitting with a bat, popping bubbles, throwing and catching balls, beanbags and balloons.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
Recreational sports may be a healthy and enjoyable activity, affording opportunities to generalize skills learned in therapy or school programs. However, their effects have not been evaluated in scientific studies with strong experimental designs.
Antecedent exercise, in which an individual exercises on a regular schedule, may reduce aggression or repetitive behaviours for some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder Some studies suggest that simply placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings with typical peers, without any other intervention, may increase their social interactions and reduce their repetitive behaviours , but other studies have not shown these effects .Thus, additional research is needed on whether simply placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings with typical peers is effective.
However, there is strong evidence from multiple studies that placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings with typically developing peers who have been taught to serve as tutors or models is effective in increasing social interactions.
Recommendations Recreational sports may have health benefits, may be an enjoyable leisure activity for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and, in some cases, may help prevent problem behavior such as aggression. Sports also may afford opportunities for socialization, particularly if peers who have been taught to serve as tutors or models are available during the activity.
3 year plan To increase awareness of the importance of physical exercise to children and teenagers on the autism spectrum as part of their daily routine as well as highlighting the benefits and educating parents on this issue also.This will be achieved by contacting support groups throughout Ireland and holding presentations with the ultimate aim of setting up physical activities in their area.
U-Fit also aims to set up an online physical exercise resource for parents to access with tips,ideas,games and programmes they can avail of themselves to help their children.
Finally on a personal note as a runner myself it is a passion and goal of mine to set an AFA (Athletics for autism) club where children of all ages can through the medium of running improve all aspects of their health and wellbeing.
Running is universal it is not skill specific all you need is a pair of legs and runners.You never know there may be some aspiring sprinters,hurdlers or even long jumpers out there but most importantly because there is not a skill requirement anyone can take part without feeling inferior.
The vision is to link in with a sports facility ,to be able to use their track and field ,weekly even twice weekly training sessions and create a club of fun .Participation in events and to become affiliated with the IAF (Irish Athletics Federation) would be the icing on the cake.