April 16, 2013
For many, the idea of starting a fitness program can be overwhelming. It is easy to get too busy or overwhelmed but health issues can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle. For optimal physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being – it’s a good idea to move!
Evidence shows that exercise has tremendous benefits for all. Fitness for people living on the autism spectrum is no exception. But improved fitness for individuals with autism spectrum disorders sometimes requires significant planning, and a greater exchange of information between professionals, educators, and parents. There are creative ways to get moving. The key is to ask individuals what they like to do, then then figure out how you can connect their exercise regimen with their interests.
If you are ready to introduce or enhance fitness for the individual with whom you work, teach, or live, here are several ways to make exercise more fun and effective suggested by autism and fitness expert Eric Chessen, M.S., YCS:
1. Short periods of activity. Pick 3 or 4 activities to do anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes (with breaks) throughout the day. Having shorter durations of fitness can be less anxiety provoking and more tolerable for those with aversions to movement or new activities. A few favorites are medicine ball throws, bear walks, hops, overhead carries, rope swings, and jumping variations.
2. Begin introducing vegetables. They may not even want it on the table near the plate the first time, but vegetables are important. Keep reintroducing them. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t even acknowledge that the broccoli spear is there. Let them discover it.
3. Introduce medicine ball throws, push throw, overhead, and scoop.
4. Ditch treadmills and other running machines for rope swings, short sprints, and frog hops. All the cardiovascular benefit (more, in fact)without the boring-ness.
5. When in doubt, pick something up and carry it overhead. Most athletes had low muscle tone with poor posture when they began exercising. Overhead carries solve both these issues.
6. Use fitness as an opportunity for socialization. Want to see interaction come to life? Have two students toss a ball back and forth or perform tandem (together) jumps forwards, backwards, and side-to-side.
7. Provide Choices. I like to have my athlete pick which activity or piece of equipment they want to use first. It promoted independence and autonomy.
8. More Protein. It builds healthy lean muscle and increases satiety.
9. Build a fitness network. Get together with other families and plan group hikes, bikes, and group exercise activities.
10. Play Outside. Something about being outside makes exercise more fun. It also promotes generalization or crossover of skills from one environment to another.
11. Climb stuff. Climbing up a rope ladder or slide requires trunk stability, upper body strength, coordination, and grip. It is one of the least-performed yet most effective fitness activities.
March 22, 2013
Taking these skills for granted is easy to do.
Use of a “club” format was implemented seven years ago whose birth was a result of the Family Focus Positive Behavior Support Program. I was meeting intelligent, fun-loving, humorous adolescents and teenagers (diagnosed with Asperger’s/High Functioning Autism) who remained isolated when it came to friendships. Upon further investigation, I realized that they misunderstood interactions from typical peers and were not given the opportunity to feel one of the most important intrinsic social rewards in human nature: “belonging”. Feeling that they were a part of something…anything…relating to others their own age. A few years ago, realizing that the younger kids had similar needs, another club was formed for elementary school aged students.
My mission was identified. Next step was how to provide activities that would be fun and informative? There are many resources available that were developed specifically for people with autism. Authors off the top of my head include Judith Coucouvanis, Michelle Winner, Cindy Schneider, Andrew Nelson, Steve Guttstein, Brenda Smith Myles and Pamela Wolfberg to name a few. A favorite activity among the kids is “Spotlight Focus” (Nelson’s book) that addresses facial expressions with matching comments:
As my research continued, I realized that any resource that addresses self-esteem, team building and just plain FUN would match the club format perfectly. Games that involved idioms became a consistent part of our schedule and continue to be enjoyed. New ideas have a way of popping up if you’re in the “social mindset”. I found some three-part sequence cards online and developed an activity that involved listening and attending.
While browsing at a yard sale one weekend, I saw a ream of cardboard strips from a hardware store that showed the different shades of paint. Each strip had the same color from light to darker. Aha! Idea! Let’s show the different levels of emotions via lighter to darker colors and increase understanding through visual supports! The following activity was developed: The group divided into two teams and were given a crayon and a piece of paper with a rectangle divided into four sections. The “Happy” team had to think of four varying levels of happy and identify each level with a word. As the emotion increased in intensity, the color got darker. The “Happy” team came up with pleased, happy, thrilled and ecstatic . The “Mad” team did the same with their emotion. The following is a video clip of the “Mad” team reporting out after group discussion:
Activities that require turn taking and working together can address important social skills. In the activity “Build A City”, each child is given a different colored marker. There is a list of what each color is assigned to draw. For example, the green marker will draw trees and shrubs, the black marker will draw roads and parking lots, etc. Conversation between participants begins to flow quite naturally as they begin to draw their city.
Conversation starters and topics through visual support can be as simple as a bingo game. Here's one with a twist! Look carefully at the card below. There are many different pictures of the same generic item, such as Christmas trees, wreaths, candy canes, snowmen etc. Participants have to listen carefully to the item that is described such as “A Christmas tree with red diagonal stripes” as opposed to “A Christmas tree made out of puzzle pieces”.
Practically every person enjoys acting and performing. Here’s some role playing ideas that directly relate to social situations for people with autism:
1. You are talking to someone about ideas for a science project. They look away, roll their eyes and start to play with their pencil.
3. You get on the bus and sit with a friend. She is smiling and looking at you.
4. You get on the bus and sit with someone. They turn away and cross their arms, looking mad.
In summary, a club is a group of people with similar interests who meet regularly to enjoy one another and share commonalities. Members are relaxed and accepted. Members feel that they ‘belong’. Relationships are formed, friends are made. The knowledge that you’re part of a group sustains you during other times of your life.
January 22, 2013
December 19, 2012
October 25, 2012
July 05, 2012
Note: Many of the same characteristics that lead children on the spectrum to be extraordinarily picky eaters can also lead them to be resistant to potty training. In particular, sensory issues and anxiety over new or different experiences can be particularly vexing. These issues then can lead to challenging behaviors as the child attempts to escape and avoid the bathroom if he sees this as the cause of his/her anxiety and fear (Click here to further explore those concepts in Part 1 of Picky Eating.)
But habit training requires rigid scheduling; not only trips to the bathroom, but also times and quantities of food and drink (for health and safety, avoid excessive restrictions or pushing more than 8 -10 glasses per day). For some, watching the clock just doesn’t fit their active lifestyle or family dynamics, so it may be better to strive for more naturalistic routines such as going upon waking, before or after meals, leaving or arriving home etc.. Communicating this effectively, as with a visual cue or part of a schedule, is also critical. Facilitate cooperation with the routine by following it with a preferred activity.
Ensuring adequate fiber is also important. Given the challenges so often faced with eating, using fiber supplements, from gummy bears (not the candy) to natural fiber powders added to a favorite shake or smoothie may be the kind of creativity required to ensure they are getting the amount of fiber needed for more regular bowel movements. If constipation is an issue for your child, your challenges will be compounded by the irregularity of experience and the all too common pain and discomfort the child will associate with it.
Immediate success may not result with habit training but your initial goal is to establish familiarity and routine. The results from a regular schedule of meals and fluid intake may take time to translate into regular elimination patters. It is also true that for many, the erratic appetites and eating patterns that have persisted will be a significant obstacle, but again success should not be expected overnight and persistence with maintaining a routine will, over time, help both eating and potty training. It goes without saying that what goes in determines what comes out!
May 18, 2012
New teachers, new routines and new expectations can bring increased anxiety and stress. And although one can’t plan for all contingencies or anticipate all possibilities, plan we must. A plan – and practical, repetitive practice carrying out that plan – can serve as a strong foundation for when uncertainty and stress enter the picture.
Tips on how to prepare for the transition into adulthood:
2. Try to balance your schedule by incorporating time to have a part-time job.
3. Establish relationships with individuals in your chosen career field to make connections for future employment.
4. Start a professional wardrobe to have ready for job interviews.
5. Meet with career counselors to build a professional resume.
6. Participate in mock interview sessions.
7. Take career assessment tests.
8. Learn and practice effective communication skills to establish good relationships with co-workers and administration.
9. Identify and practice healthy ways to manage stress and learn how to respond to personal set-backs.
April 20, 2012
The following is written by Andrew Nelson, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the West Virginia Autism Training Center. In this article Andrew discusses self-advocacy and provides resources and information that may support individuals in learning this important life skill. Please click on words or phrases in blue below to be linked to websites about that topic.
Individuals with autism have been working cooperatively to help one another develop self-advocacy skills and partnerships. Organizations like AUTREAT , AASCEND , the Autistic Self-AdvocacyNetwork and the newly-formed Autistic Global Initiative have made self-advocacy the central focus for individuals with autism and the “culture of self-advocacy” is finally beginning to permeate into the systems supporting people with autism. Sometimes the phrase self-advocacy tends to conjure images of activists marching on governments or speaking in front of large committees to make or change laws. This is only one of the many forms of self-advocacy. In fact, a person telling someone what they would like for breakfast is also a form of self-advocacy!
Generally speaking, when attempting to assess a person’s self-advocacy skills we tend to look at 3 indicators: self-awareness, competence, and autonomy. The following definitions were co-developed with Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D. Self-awareness refers to an awareness of one’s sensory experience and needs, social tendencies, strengths, interests, and general way of being (also includes awareness of legal rights and entitlements). Competence refers to evidence that an individual has tools and strategies to effectively navigate disclosure and advocate for accommodations, according to his/her preferences, interests or strengths. Autonomy refers to the ability to advocate for accommodations in a variety of settings and situations, disclose to protect or foster oneself, use strengths and interests to integrate into cultures, and understand when to assert one’s rights.
Each person on the autism spectrum will have different levels of self-awareness, competence, and autonomy. These indicators provide critical information about what supports are needed to achieve greater success in self-advocacy. For example, a person may not be aware of her senses as being separate inputs or as having a specific label. She may lack strong sensory self-awareness. Teaching lessons can be designed to give each of her senses a name or picture and connect real world smells, sights, sounds, textures, etc. to those sensory names or icons. Once she understands that olfactory or smell experiences are connected to her “sense of smell” she can hopefully recognize and pinpoint those smells that are problematic. Hopefully, she can then self-advocate more effectively by communicating “that smell is bothering me, can we make a change”, resulting in more competence and autonomy as well.
The importance of self-advocacy was recognized in the past, however there were limited resources to help teach self-advocacy skills and teach allies how to support self-advocates. The Integrated Self-Advocacy Curriculum, by Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., is a comprehensive curriculum that addresses both of those needs. Eleven different units are presented which range from preparing to participate meaningfully in an IEP meeting to understanding the skills needed to manage disclosing one’s diagnosis to others. The ISA℠ Curriculum has both a Teacher and Student manual, making it extremely user-friendly. One unit is dedicated to teaching individuals how to conduct an ISA Sensory Scan™. Individuals learn to scan the immediate environment to identify potential sensory challenges and then develop self-advocacy plans and scripts to address the issue. It is incredible to see people discover they have a degree of control and say in environmental factors that had been difficult in the past.
The state of West Virginia has an active self-advocacy community. Groups like People First of WV and The Arc of WV are helping to develop a strong network of self-advocates across our state, and individuals with autism are shaping that network. Also, the WV Developmental Disability Council offers a class called Partners in Policy Making which helps adults with developmental disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities become familiar with the policy making and legislative process at the local, state and federal levels. On June 14th the WV DD Council is also sponsoring a WV Youth Self Advocacy Conference. Our state has a well-respected self-advocacy community, as was evident at the recent Allies in Self-Advocacy Summit in Baltimore, MD, and those of us in or supporting the autism community should network in earnest with other self-advocacy stakeholders in WV.
Finally, the WV Autism Training Center offers a variety of services and the self-advocacy of people on the autism spectrum is central in our initiatives. Individuals with autism are encouraged to share their dreams and goals during person-centered planning meetings, actively drive their college experiences, lead school meetings, direct their education at IEP meetings, co-train others in their communities, communicate their preferences, and express themselves as freely as possible. We strive to creatively and compassionately support people on the spectrum as they pursue a life of quality.
March 16, 2012
The following is written by Luke Walker, a Positive Behavior Support Trainer for the West Virginia Autism Training Center. In this article Luke discusses strategies to support individuals with ASD in improving their sleep experience.
Many parents and caregivers express concerns over the sleeping habits of individuals with ASD. In my experience those concerns often focus on: the number of hours asleep, the timeframe for falling asleep, sleeping too much throughout the day, not sleeping throughout the night, and assisting the individual in learning to sleep in his or her own bed.
Research suggests sleep problems exist for 44% to 83% of individuals on the autism spectrum, so families that express concern are far from alone. The most common reported sleep problem is Insomnia, which can result in prolonged time getting to sleep, a later bedtime, decreased amounts of sleep, an early wake time, and increased amount of awakenings during a normal sleep cycle. Sleep disordered breathing, arousals from sleep with confusion or wandering, leg movements and daytime sleepiness are other commonly reported problems.
It is important to address sleep issues with individuals on the spectrum; difficulty with sleep can affect daytime behavior, contribute to difficulties with attention, and result in increased anxiety and stress. Following are strategies that may be helpful in supporting a better sleep experience for individuals living with ASD:
A Consistent Bedtime Routine
The best approach to reducing insomnia is to develop a consistent bedtime routine. This routine should be between 20 and 30 minutes in length and occur during the same time each night to help synchronize sleeping rhythms.
Some individuals may get a “second-wind” before bed time and have trouble getting to sleep if it is too early. If it takes more than an hour to get to sleep, try adjusting the bedtime by 30 minutes to an hour.
Keep a steady wake-up time, even if the person sleeps later than usual. Keeping a regular wake-up time will improve the quality of sleep and help maintain developed sleeping rhythms.
To reduce the amount of stimulation and help calm the body and mind, avoid activities centered on the computer and television one hour before bedtime. Use that final hour to practice self-help skills, complete hygiene activities before bed, or read a story together.
A visual support, especially one that uses text and pictures to display different steps in the bedtime process, can aid in building independence around the bedtime routine. This type of support will help reduce the need to constantly prompt for the next step in the routine and allow the individual to know exactly what is required and how many steps there are in the routine. An excellent example of a visual bedtime routine schedule can be found at this link, which takes you to the Autism Speaks document: "Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders."
If night waking occurs, avoid actions that may look like play to the sleeper. Enter the room and simply state: “back to bed”. Reinforce this desired behavior of sleeping through the night with a reward in the morning. Keep track of how many hours the individual is sleeping through the night so that both of you are able to observe progress. Changes may be slow and it can be easy to overlook small increases in sleep consistent and reliable data.
Adults and children typically wake up for brief periods several times each night to assess the sleep environment and then quickly fall back to sleep. If the individual with ASD cannot fall asleep alone, he or she may visit you for assistance during the night when these awakenings occur. As a result, both of you may feel less rested in the morning.
Allowing a child to use a bedtime pass may also be useful. This is an object or card that can be exchanged (for a hug, a kiss, a drink of water, time with a parent etc.) one time during the night. You can supplement this with a reward strategy for not using the pass, such as gaining a sticker or smiley face for every unused pass and earning a trip for 5 smiley faces.
The Use of Medications for Sleep
Some consider using medication as a sleep aid when behavioral strategies have been unsuccessful. The decision to use medication is a highly pesonal one, so it is important to consult with a physician about the possibility before medication is used. If the decision is made to use medication, it is important to pair the use with behavioral strategies, and to discuss with phsyicians the idea of starting doses at the lowest therapeutic level, as individuals with ASD may be less able to communicate effectively any side effects they may be experiencing. A Melatonin supplement has been used successfully to treat insomnia in individuals with autism; a dietary supplement, Melatonin is easily available and has few side effects.
A Personal Perspective
Embedded below is the video: Insights from an Autistic: Insomnia & Sleep Problems. The video narrator provides insight into why he experiences challenges with sleep, and offers tips on how to overcome those challenges. While these insights and specific tips may not apply to everyone, they reinforce that consistency and a method to reduce anxiety are integral to success.