Structure is teaching. We need to do that because otherwise we would not have a repertoire. From movement to mathematics (although the two are completely linked), the “basics” become a platform off of which to develop new skills safely, efficiently, and fun, uh, ly.

Chaos comes in relative degrees. There is absolute all-over-the-place-barely-functional movement chaos (see also; what most kids with autism are doing when over- or under-stimulated), and there is controlled, meaningful chaos, also interchangeable with the word “play.”  Play skills are a rehearsal for life, and also valuable for in-the-moment creativity and problem solving.

Motor planning is problem solving. An obstacle or stimulus (see also; thing that is happening) requires a response. So if little Emily is 1) motivated and 2) able to jump around on some little multi-colored dots, we have the opportunity to increase her capacity for play. This means more structure (teaching). But the more teaching can lead to a greater array of skills used in the controlled chaos environment.

Why the hell does any of this matter?

If healthy movement and active lifestyle are crucial to optimal development (and they are), it would make sense to provide young people (of course my particular focus is those with autism, but that’s me) with opportunities not only to move better, but to actually enjoy doing so. If Emily can jump to the dots, and wants to, it makes my job as a fitness specialist easier. The more opportunity she has to move, the wider set of skills we can develop together. Progression of the exercise activities gives her more options to choose when….

Using movement in controlled chaos situations (playing).

Spontaneity is not exactly a strength for most individuals with ASD. Sure, there is the occasional odd new behavior during dinner or repeating a new song on loop, but in my experience the “I’m going to try a new activity on the playground” factor is lacking.

The neat thing about building up a movement repertoire (tool box, cache, options, etc.) is that it often increases the chances that an individual will seek out physical activities independently, meaning, without you or I hovering over them. I taste success when one (or more) of my athletes pick up a Dynamax ball or the ropes and decide that they’re going to throw or swing or some new combination of either. The skill has been mastered and has moved to a place (physically and cognitively) where it can be performed in a variety of situations without instruction.

Which is the whole point of teaching and coaching, anyway.

Motor planning is being able to answer the question; “How do I move next?”

Active play is being able to answer the question; “How do I want to move next?”

Good coaching is being able to answer the questions: “How does this athlete need to move and  what do I do to get them there?”


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