"WHY FIT IN WHEN YOU WERE BORN TO STANDOUT"
COVID-19 & AUTISM
Most families that have a member with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been directly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Routines and available services are disrupted. Schools are closed, connections with service providers are lost and everyone is concern about contracting the virus.
Coping with the anxiety and uncertainty that we are feeling during this time is something all parents will need to address with their children.
To support individuals with ASD understanding about COVID-19, communication is best when paired with visual aids or social narratives (simple stories explaining a social situation). These techniques will allow the person with autism the opportunity to process information in multiple formats given potential receptive communication deficits.
Talk with your child about new social expectations and rules for safe distancing when interacting with others. Use clear, concrete language to discuss the “rules” for how to greet others, maintain personal space and hand washing. Visual aids may be helpful to explain these new procedures to assist in understanding.
Children and adolescents with autism function best when provided with a structured routine that allows for them to anticipate what may come next in the day. As much as possible, follow previously established routines related to sleep/waking times, and completing household chores and activities of daily living. A visual schedule will help your child understand the new structure of their daily routine at home. It is appropriate to include limited screen time within the daily schedule, but be sure to provide transition warnings and visual countdowns when transitioning away from highly preferred activities.
Coping with the anxiety and uncertainty that we are all feeling during this time is something all parents will need to address with their children. If your child has calming and coping strategies that are effective in other stressful situations, providing him or her with a list of choices for calming during these stressful times will help with self-regulation and managing anxiety. Choices may include physical exercise, deep breathing, accessing a favorite activity or listening to music. When you are leaving home, allow your child to bring a favorite toy or preferred item for comfort.
Children with autism often have difficulties expressing their emotions including fear, frustration and anxiety. Difficulties in expressive communication may be compounded by expressive communication delays, limited verbal and nonverbal skills and social communication deficits. They may communicate heightened emotions through changes in behavior including increased repetitive behaviors, tantrums and behavioral outbursts, difficulty following directions and a lower frustration tolerance.
Provide opportunities for your child to engage in coping and calming strategies that they find helpful. If significant behavioral changes occur, additional support from a behavioral therapist, mental health or medical provider may be needed.
Now and always, remember to applaud your kids being good and provide lots of praise for positive behaviors at home and in public. Be easy on yourself and practice self-care,
5 COPING TIPS
Not just any program !!
Many of the teenage athletes I’ve coached missed the widespread introduction of early intervention education & therapy.They have difficulty communicating and limited social interaction with peers. Fitness programs for teens with ASD can not only provide a social opportunity, but can focus on improving areas of physical deficit. In order to do this, we have to understand and appreciate good fitness programming and current individual skills.
We also have to understand not only physical needs, but the behavioral and cognitive considerations for these individuals as well.
Teenagers with autism often have limited strength, stability, speed, power, and coordination. They may have been diagnosed with “low tone,” which is a catch-all phrase that refers to deficits in general strength. This not only affects daily life skills and physical health, but may have an impact on self-esteem and the way individuals “carry” themselves in public.
So we ask; Is this a trend we want to continue or do we want to provide fitness programming that will truly be life-changing? If fitness is truly going to be a life skill, we need to implement those exercises that will have the highest amount of carryover or generalization to activities of daily living.
Think about what we do on a daily basis. Carrying groceries or laundry, reaching for items in a cabinet, walking up and down stairs, sitting and standing. These are all movement patterns that can be enhanced with the right choice of exercises. Additionally, we can begin to fine tune some of the movement and motor deficits that may already exist, and provide strength and motor skills that may offset compensatory movement patterns; the kind that lead to gait issues and low back pain in adulthood.
It is very important to note that an exercise is only as beneficial as it is coached; meaning there’s a difference between “just doing an exercise” and performing it at a level of progression or regression that works for the athlete.
Understanding progressions and regressions for each exercise is critical. In fact it is the difference between a program “working” for an athlete and something that just appears to be a fitness program. Education on correct performance, including the coaching of each exercise is paramount.
So consider that while these are definitely highly important exercises for teens and young adults with autism, the true benefit of each movement is based in safely and effectively coaching by finding the appropriate progression or regression for each. Regressions are a simplification of an exercise while progressions offer a greater challenge.
SHUTTING UP: A COACHES GUIDE TO SUCCESS
A FEW THOUGHTS
"Okay, first we're going to step over the hurdles so you're going to bring your foot up and lift your knee and then do the five steps..."
Let's take the instructions above and simplify them while maintaining effectiveness;
"Do five hurdles"
Yeah. That's it. Along with a demonstration, perhaps with us just stepping over the first and second hurdle, the athlete is receiving all the instruction they need with no extra feed, no static.
Our athletes with autism often have delays or deficits in auditory processing and receptive language. If we provide a barrage of verbal information it may just sit there like a buffet dinner. Plenty of nutrients going undigested.
We want to take a "Tell & Show" approach to coaching exercises, particularly when teaching a new movement or progressing one that has been mastered. As coaches and educators, we often have to resist the urge to "do something," sometimes when the recipe requires fewer ingredients instead of more.
If the goal for our athletes is independent mastery of each exercise, adopting a practice of "just enough but no more" provides the necessary structure for them to progress and us to fade our prompt or cue.
Individual-centered coaching includes accounting for the cognitive abilities of the athlete. A habit of asking "How little information needs to be spoken here?" is a gateway to more productive sessions. Deliver and demonstrate. A secondary but important benefit is the athlete associating the label with the action. This is the contingency between direction and performance that we want to establish.
Verbal direction should focus on labeling the exercise, the number of repetitions, and the contingency;
All the verbal information our athletes need is there.
Coaching direction takes the form of a visual, or, if needed, physical prompt. These should be faded (systematically removed) as the athlete grows more confident with and proficient in the exercise.
Effective coaches and teachers communicate. We enjoy explaining. Effective explaining requires filtering out extraneous information. Direct. Prompt. Succeed