Children and young individuals with autism commonly avoid new or difficult tasks. Being able to adhere, focus, or continue to pursue a complex or demanding activity is not only an important life skill, but also a key to discovering things that we enjoy and are passionate about in life. Consider something you love to do, whether it is cooking, writing, golf, or even, dare I say, exercise. You probably were not that great at it to begin with. For children and young individuals with autism, that challenge is even greater.
Building resilience or tolerance to new activities is a pivotal aspect of creating a successful exercise program. I often tell the parents that I work with to begin with short durations of exercise (maybe 2-3 movements or 3-5 minutes) or to build in many breaks or access to preferred items and activities in-between exercise targets. The goal, of course, is to build tolerance to longer durations of exercise. But in-between activities do not have to be sedentary.
If the athlete already enjoys bouncing a ball or jumping on a trampoline, that can be used not only as a reinforcer following exercise, but as an activity in-between target exercises. Slowly lengthening the duration of activities can develop greater functioning in the areas of:
– Task adherence
– Problem solving
– Self-regulation under demand situations
Think about how important generalizing ANY of these skills is to both home and social environments. This is exactly why fitness should be considered a long-term skill taught with short-term goals. For children and young adults with autism and their families, fitness is the gateway to new abilities and discovery.