Sports and ABA
• Sports are part of the TLC daily curriculum. Sports are an important part of the program at TLC because:
• Sports can help children with autism gain confidence, improve social skills, and develop better coordination. Improvements in balance and motor skills often go hand in hand with progress made in cognitive function and academic achievement
• Sports and exercise can improve proprioception, or the body’s sense of where it is in space and where the parts of the body are in relation to each other, which is important because autism often affects sensory processing.
• Exercising and playing sports gets more oxygen to the brain, help children stay in shape, improves sleep habits, and can improve relaxation and decrease aggressive behaviors
• Sports are fun. Children with autism often like swimming, swinging, and jumping on trampolines.
• Sports are part of the routine in a neurotypical environment such as a preschool or primary and secondary school
• Research has also demonstrated that increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviors that
are common among individuals with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviors.
• Behaviors such as body rocking, spinning, head-nodding, hand flapping, object-tapping, and light gazing, that have been shown to interfere with positive social behavior and learning, can thus be controlled by the use of exercise.
• Exercise can discourage aggressive and self-injurious behavior while improving attention span. (In one study, aerobic exercise included 20 minutes of mildly strenuous jogging, however the aforementioned swimming and water exercise study also revealed a significant decrease in stereotypical behaviors in children with autism following a 60 minute session in the pool. One theory behind these findings is that the highly structured routines, or repetitive behaviors involved in running or swimming, may be similar to and/or distract from those self-stimulating, repetitive behaviors associated with autism. )
• For those with autism who are able to participate in team sports, this presents an opportunity to develop social relationships among teammates and learn how to recognize the social cues required for successful performance on the field or court. However, individuals that prefer individual sports such as running or swimming that do not rely as heavily on social cues may still benefit from the positive attributes of physical activity while forming social relationships with coaches or trainers. In all cases, participating in sports provides individuals with autism with a role in society that may not have existed otherwise.
Guiding children into sports activities:
TLC children will be encouraged to choose the types of sports activities in which to participate. (Allowing options will assist staff in determining what kind of sensory input the children need)
• A wide variety of options will be available. The ideal sports for children with autism provide the type of sensory stimulation that helps organize their brains so that they can interpret sensory information.
• Physical activities will be offered that involve movement, spinning, swinging, moving up and down (i.e., jumping on a trampoline or bouncy house), and traveling down an incline (i.e., skiing) all stimulate the “vestibular” or balance sense.
• Heavy pressure activities such as swimming, and weight lifting stimulate the skin and muscles, and will be included as part of the curriculum as availability and weather conditions allow. These sports also provide visual stimulation that helps develop eye-hand coordination.
• Outdoor recreation such as hiking, climbing, paddle-boating, and canoeing, provides an opportunity for the children to compete only against themselves. Outdoor environments provide an escape from the daily crowds and technologies that can easily over-stimulate an individual with autism. Field trips will allow for opportunities for TLC children to participate in outdoor recreation.
• Team sports: TLC children may eventually be part of a team, or at least play in impromptu games after school, or even use imagination to make up their own games. Children with autism learn not just by sitting at desks doing work, but also by getting along with others, being spontaneous, and thinking on the fly.
• For a high functioning child, it is possible have him or her play in a league with typical peers who are preferably a couple of years younger than the child who has autism, depending upon local league rules and by-laws. The child may have a “shadow” who helps integrate him or her with the other children athletically and socially. TLC will engage children in team sports as numbers and abilities allow.
• The team sport decision will be made considering individual needs. Facilitating a child’s participation on a sports team is similar to integrating her into an academic environment. Sometimes it’s best for children to be mainstreamed into a typical school environment with the support of a one-on-one aide, and other times it may be best for them to learn in a self-contained (special education) classroom. Often the best of both worlds is a combination, depending on the situation.
• TLC children who face more gross motor challenges can learn to play catch, throw a ball in a hoop, or kick a ball into a goal. Learning sports skills can be accomplished one step at a time, similar to how cognitive skills are learned.
• Exercises may be implemented but only those that are meaningful within the context of sports.
• Curriculum incorporation. Sports are more effective for children with disabilities when they are combined with academics and social skills. Children may work on a half hour of sports followed by a half hour of schoolwork, followed by a half hour of social skills depending on the individual schedule. Each area helps the child generalize skills and build on the previous area. Each activity will transition to the others, and ideally, children will do some academic work while moving at the same time. Example is to have a child play catch or jump on a trampoline while counting jumps, (building sensory integration and cognitive skills).
• Coaching: Rather than having specialists for sports, academics and social skills, the TLC therapist assume all roles, as integrating the staff into a combination of different teaching areas can help children better generalize skills into a natural environment. Occasionally, an “expert” in a particular sport may be brought in to perform special coaching or to present a workshop.
*Materials: Materials needed for specific sports are provided by TLC.