The Empathetic Cone Game

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This morning during our session at the park, my athlete “Jay” and I began with the following cone touch activity:

1) Athlete stands on foot-shaped spot markers

2) Athlete touches red, blue, or green cone (placed about two feet in front of him) upon instructor’s cue

I dig this activity as a warm-up because it provides some information about today’s receptive language skills (cognitive functioning), how well he performs the action of bending his knees and touching the cone (physical functioning), and how long he will perform the activity before wandering off (adaptive functioning)

After about a dozen cone touches, we switched roles. I stood on the red feet awaiting his direction. After having me touch the cones in sequential order (red, then green, then blue), he began calling them out very quickly, his attention quickly dropping off and him veering off in another direction. That’s the autism for ya.

Jay does not have much of an idea about what it’s like for me to perform the cone activity, but his instruction provides some insight about what it is like for him to initiate and interact. It gives me opportunities to understand how he operates from a cognitive perspective and develop cues and teaching strategies that work better for him.

Empathy is inherent to good coaching.

What is it like to be you doing this?

I’ve read articles/ posts that use the term “empathy” but relate the idea that since someone has autism or any related developmental disorder that they should be left to “just be themselves” and “not be forced to learn our rules,” which is the equivalent of saying “Let’s not even try,” and/or “This person does not deserve to have an enriched, more productive life because there are some obstacles in teaching them some basic skills.” ¬†Screw that. There is the potential for skill development if we have the conceptual info and concrete practice.

No, Jay won’t win blue ribbon cone game caller anytime soon, but he did have fun, the opportunity to tell me what to do for a few seconds, and I get to be a better coach for him.

Equi-Spirit cones

Live Inspired,



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