In order to develop an individualized fitness program, with short and long-term goals, I begin with a thorough assessment that includes testing motor skills, strength, agility, speed, balance, endurance, flexibility and response to sensory information through exercise. Assessments are repeated every six weeks to track progress.
We began with a plan to improve Lolly’s balance. All physical activity requires one to have balance. From sitting in a chair to walking to the subway or getting a glass of water, balance is a required functional movement. In some autistic children, lack of balance becomes a strong disability. Fortunately, physical fitness can vastly improve this issue.
Because Lolly’s inability to balance was severe, our first goal was improving her posture, including her walking and running gait. Her ability to watch where she was going while walking was a serious challenge.
Lolly also has skeletal issues with her feet that are a deterrent to her ability becoming an athlete. However, with continued emphasis on walking in straight lines without tripping and losing direction she began to increase her overall ability.
Homework is crucial to success
I give all my athletes homework to do. For Lolly, that consisted of practicing walking heel, toe, heel, toe down the hallways of her apartment until she could achieve this without touching the adjacent walls. She was soon using her new focus skills to watch her steps, looking forward and then down again at her feet.
The next goal we set was standing on one foot. We began with one to two repetitions of Lolly balancing on one foot for 30 seconds and then switching feet. Achieving these simple goals builds self-esteem and proprioception (often referred to as the sixth sense) of her own body parts working together.
The next exercise we do is standing on a Bosu ball, which forces the brain to work to balance. Her initial response to standing on the Bosu Ball was pure fear of falling. Now, she loves to show off how she is able to stand on one foot at a time with good balance. Keeping her feet straight while walking is an ongoing, but greatly improved achievement.
Increased coordination and focus
Lolly has improved consistently since in the three and a half months since she started my autism fitness program. She has increased her coordination and ability to stay focused and on task for each activity. She now rides a stationary bike for a solid fifteen minutes, and she even requests exercises she’s learned since we started. She giggles and laughs and has made several associations at the gym.
When an autistic child begins to gain self confidence and physical skills, family milestones follow. Her ability to go the gym and go on the treadmill by herself and then join her mother for a Sunday morning of mother/daughter time together was a huge change for the family.
Our next goal for Lolly is to continue enhancing her functional movement skills. We also want her to be more cognizant of her posture during active daily living movements.