Adapted Physical Education

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Major Concern #1


Deficits in social and communication skills vary for each child. Too often Autism is confused with stereotypical behaviors seen by characters in movies. Many children today are being diagnosed with forms of autism where the characteristics are less obvious. These children are at particular risk for failure in physical activity settings because others do not see the disability and confuse the lack of social understanding with being “different” or “strange”. Many parents believe that children with autism, because of their social deficits, need structured play settings such as youth sport programming. This may be true for many kids with autism, but consider that in many youth sports programs the level of skill of program providers varies. Some adults lack the skills to work with children without disabilities and may have even more problems with your child with autism. Both the child and the program provider suffer if proper resources are not provided in advance.




Teaching children to play in unstructured settings is important and foundational to other more advanced community sports programs. It is recommended that young parents go to playgrounds and other places where kids play and observe how young children interact. This includes how long children stay on task (very short) and how they interact with other children in general. By helping your child at home experience successful play situations you can prepare your child to engage in more social community options later. Turn taking and also helping children understand the need to communicate is important. Some children with autism will engage for hours in stereotypical activities such as repetitively building the same structure with blocks. Reinforcing children for appropriate play and helping them transition from one activity to another will help the child later when he is in a more structured program. It may also be the case that your child’s program provider needs help understanding how your child transitions best. Some children need time to prepare for the stopping of one activity and the beginning of another.


Major Concern #2


Older children with autism may not want to participate in games and sports that are overly social. May traditional games such as little league baseball or soccer may not fit your child’s participation preferences.




Martial arts programs have some inherent qualities that make them suitable for children of all ability levels and specifically children with autism. First, the activities involve a lot of repetition and modeling. Second, progress or achievement is marked by rank improvements of each individual rather than success of the group. Third, children can engage in many forms of martial arts where touching and contact are not necessary for improvement. Forms and other skills can be done without a need to perform to the standards of the group. Finally, martial arts programs accept children and adults of all ages. Typically many programs have adults and adolescents participate at the same time and in the same class. Mom, dad, and siblings can all play at the same time and provide models for the adolescent with autism. Keep in mind that when parents play with kids, it is not always the job of the parent to keep the child in line. Some instructors will need your help and also want you to participate rather than keep your child in line. Talk with the instructor beforehand and set guidelines for how problem behavior will be handled and who will intervene. Also, many programs provide private lessons to families as a group making it possible for the family to learn at a set time without the distraction of outside participants.