In Autism Fitness programming, we focus a good amount, and necessarily so, on regressing exercises. Basic movement patterns (pushing, pulling, squatting, crawling) are often difficult for individuals with autism due to a combination of pre-existing deficits including neuromuscular inhibition and sedentary behavior.
So we must simplify movements and enable our athletes to gradually and systematically build the skills needed to perform the action effectively and independently.
What about when they master the skill? Once Dylan can perform ten push throws with a 2lb Dynamax ball, do we keep him throwing until he can do a hundred?
Once a skill is mastered…wait, how do we know it’s mastered? And why should x be the criteria for mastery?
Using the Autism Fitness PAC Profile as a guide enables an instructor to regress and progress exercises based on the current level of ability. When talking about physical ability (the “P” in “PAC”), we’re looking at the independent performance of a specific activity.
Criteria for Baseline Mastery (CfBM) refers to the level of performance at which we can progress an exercise. The 3 key components for mastery include:
- The skill can be performed with technical skill and minimal compensatory movement
- The skill can be performed reliably (more than once)
- The skill can be performed independent of prompting or intervention from an instructor
For most of our medicine ball throw and strength exercises, we use a simple criteria; If the exercise can be performed to current ability level for 3 sets of 10 repetitions we can add a progression.
Suppose from 6 feet away Dylan can easily perform 3 sets of 10 push throws with a 2lb Dynamax ball. This demonstrates sufficient proficiency with push throws. It’s reasonable to conclude that he has this level of performance mastered.
The fun part of progression is we can take this in multiple directions (pun intended). Our progression options include;
- Push throws from a farther distance
- Using a slightly heavier ball
- Adding a cone touch + push throw combo
- Lateral step/push throw/lateral step
We can mix fundamentals with exponential ways to provide just enough variety that the integrity of movement isn’t compromised and we’re not just adding things to add things.
During the Autism Fitness Level I Certification our attendees learn how to and when to progress and regress exercises for maximal benefit. This is a cornerstone of programming for the autism population and can reshape the amount of engagement during group fitness/adapted PE programs.
Having a standard for mastery criteria is a straightforward, repeatable, and guesswork-eliminating process for elevating fitness skills and providing optimal coaching.