May is National Fitness and Sports Month!
By: Janice Huber, BCBA, LBA, Parent
As COVID-19 restrictions are lessening and the weather is improving, opportunities for group and outdoor activities for kids are hopefully increasing. For most kids, there are lots of school and community opportunities to participate in sports and camps that provide physical fitness. However, traditional school sports and summer camps may not be an option for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Organized team sports like basketball and baseball require a lot of skills that a child with disabilities may not yet have such as learning the rules and applying them quickly, reading and responding to all the social cues, tolerating fatigue, heat or noise. But there are team sports that don’t require high levels of team communication or applying complicated rules like swimming, bowling, track and field, or gymnastics that may be a better fit for some kids with developmental disabilities.
An important consideration is to look at any physical activity from your child’s point of view. You need to ask questions like ‘Does he/she want to participate?’ Physical activity or “sports” may not yet be a reinforcer – there is no motivation to participate. The CDC recommends that kids ages 6-17 have 60 minutes of physical activity per day. That’s a lot! For kids not enrolled in schools that provide PE every day, I imagine that is a difficult goal to meet. And what is available when school is out? How do we provide opportunities for physical fitness that our kids want to engage in?
Depending on where you live, opportunities for group fitness activities developed specifically for children with autism and other developmental disabilities are usually limited and often non-existent. Some options parents can explore:
- If your child is highly motivated to participate in a particular sport and is enrolled in a public or private school that receives federal funds, the school is required to provide an opportunity for participation for students with disabilities. To learn more, click here.
- If your child is not enrolled in school but is interested in a particular sport – reach out to local community organizers and ask if there is a way your child can participate; in practices, or with certain team tasks.
- Contact your local Families Helping Families, YMCA, advocacy groups, your child’s teachers, therapists or doctors to learn what is available in your area – click here for some organized sports for kids with disabilities
- If your child is not ready for organized group activities, start small and be creative – encourage your child’s physical activity by creating movement opportunities that incorporate something your child is interested in. For example:
- Super Mario obstacle course in the backyard
- Minecraft scavenger hunt
- Superhero jumping jacks
- Video games that involve movement like Wii Sports™ or Just Dance™, or create your own like a Fortnite™ dance competition
- Walking, biking or other activities that your family enjoys
Physical activity is good for all of us — it increases our cardiovascular health, the strength of our muscles and bones and reduces the risk of chronic conditions. Regular physical activity for kids with developmental disabilities provides the same health benefits and may increase the likelihood that they will maintain an active lifestyle into adulthood. For parents trying to increase their child’s physical fitness, the key is to find or create an activity that your child is interested in and make it worth their while to participate — create the motivation and provide reinforcers for participating. Strategies for effectively creating motivation and delivering reinforcers to change behaviors can be found in the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA.)
Touchstone ABA provides research-driven applied behavior analysis services. Clients include children and adults diagnosed with autism and individuals with learning and language differences and other behavioral challenges. Touchstone provides services in Thibodaux, Houma, New Orleans, Hammond, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. For more information on Touchstone’s services, call (985) 446-6833, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.touchstoneaba.com. You can also follow Touchstone on Facebook.