The labeling of “high” versus “low” functioning individuals with ASD and related developmental challenges is one of those fill in the ____________ communications.

Countless times I’ve been asked what type of workout/exercises I would give a “high” functioning teen or a “low” functioning adult. These terms, while providing a vague sense of ability, are ultimately going to have minimal-at-best application to fitness or adapted PE programming. They are too vague, too broad, and give us nothing usable.

Even when relegated to strictly cognitive capacities, we still have the question of receptive versus expressive communication skills. Some of our athletes understand more than they can functionally communicate and some can communicate more than they can understand. With respect to exercise, cognitive functioning does not have an automatic implication for exercise progressions or regressions. Physical ability can often be mutually exclusive from expressive or receptive communication skills.

What is important is knowing how to convey information and coach each athlete effectively both in learning the performance of each exercise and the names of them as well. The better the athlete understands the expectation for performing a hurdle step, push throw, or Sandbell overhead press, the greater likelihood they will be successful. The second, and equally important component is providing, as needed, prompting and cuing that is in accordance with current ability levels around the exercise. This requires the coach know how the exercise is supposed to be performed and able to identify compensation or weak links in the movement.

An effective prompt/cue is going to be the least restrictive while still enabling the athlete to complete the movement to best of current ability. This is why in our Autism Fitness programs we follow specific hierarchies for providing and then fading prompts.

In the video below you’ll get a deeper understanding of how cognitive functioning skills are considered in AF programming and how you can use these strategies to alleviate frustration, assess current ability levels, and optimize both experience and physical skill development for your athletes.

AF Concepts: Cognitive Functioning