My park sessions with Nick rule. I have him perform some combination of Sandbell presses, Overhead walks, Rope swings, Squats to a Dynamax ball, Jumping Push throws, and hanging off the monkey bars. His reinforcer/break consists of playing on the playground or on the swings for a couple of minutes. It is a most ideal session. He’s moving the entire time, in both structured and chaos/play situations. It flows like a London Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Seamless. Seamless, I tell you! Nick also self-regulates to a capital degree. You tell him his break is over in two minutes, and he’s back, ready to move, in two minutes.

Nick’s goals are to increase general strength, particularly with regard to upper body, though we do a good amount of squatting because 1) He needs it and 2) Everyone needs it. We are also working on movement sequencing, a fancypants way of saying motor planning, a fancypants way of saying going from one action (ex: squatting to a ball) to another (ex: jumping forward) with little time between the movements (in some circles referred to as “flow”). With Nick, motor planning is not always at platinum level. Cognitively, he can follow a 2-step direction pretty well. Physically, from a coordination perspective, things are, professionally speaking, a bit off. In order to have optimal coordination, you need: 1) The strength to perform the movement correctly and 2) The stability to control the movement effectively. This may be the single best reason why sports-based activities are a poor choice for serving as the foundation of PE programs, but that statement leads to its own book. With pictures.

When we get back to his house, Mom informs me that according to his PT, Nick has achieved his/their goal of “performing jumping jacks.” There is no way whatsoever that Nick can perform jumping jacks at this point. Here are my immediate possible conclusions:

1) Nick’s PT has a magic wand, and can summon powers that allow him to perform proper jumping jacks in, and only in, his/her presence
2) Nick’s PT just likes putting down whatever he/she damn well pleases, and figures Mom will say “Oh, that’s nice,” and not give it second regard
3) Nick’s PT has a vastly different idea of what a jumping jack involves, and, evidently, he has performed that version/approximation to his/her satisfaction

I’m not going to badmouth/slander Nick’s PT without some more information (provided the proper information I’d be happy to badmouth, justifiably), but what we need here are definitions, specifically, Operational Definitions.  Nick’s PT may have a criteria for jumping jacks that is different from my, or anyone else’s interpretation. If he/she is using an approximation, meaning a jumping jack that is not quite a jumping jack but as good as Nick can do right now, fine. But you have to let other people know that. Yes it is tedious to write down every little nuance. Sure, it can be slightly time-consuming to provide details. One of my ABA mentors shared this delightfully macabre notion with me:

Your programs should be written to such extent that if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, another professional could pick it up and continue to run them.”

I always look both ways AND I’m a good sprinter, but my programs are still written out in case of large vehicle-related occurrences upon me.

The value of skill development programs and protocols is that they can be built upon and progressed, so that deficits are eradicated and other abilities optimized on a fairly linear continuum. Saying that Nick has “achieved his goal” of performing jumping jacks does not help anybody, particularly Nick. Where does the next step start? How come he cannot perform them anymore (likely because he never could in the first place)?

Work by the mantra “Pull the sheet tight.” The wrinkles in the sheet are the questions, unclear parts, and assumptions about the goals, steps, and current abilities. Pulling the sheets tight leads to not only transparency, but really, really knowing what an individual can do, and where the next progression needs to occur.

Meanwhile, Nick continues to progress with his overhead presses (4lb. Sandbell for up to 10 repetitions), Squats to a 10″ diameter Dynamax ball (up to 6 reps while holding a 2lb. Sandbell), and monkey bar holds (up to 7 seconds, assisted via holding his torso). I don’t plan on being hit by a bus, but I keep it in mind.

Live Inspired,


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