Physical education classes are a great time for kids to have fun, exercise and hone their social skills. However, children with autism may not be fully included in such classes as some teachers may not know how to work with them. Regardless of whether you are a physical education teacher looking to create a more inclusive class or a parent advocating for the inclusion of children with autism, here is a list of ways to encourage children with autism to exercise in a class.
It is important to note that autism is a ‘spectrum’ disorder and all kids with autism are unique. Something that is effective with one child may not work on another child.
Firstly, you should never presume that a child with autism does not like sports or is unable to take part in them. Many people try to modify the sport to make it easier for these children to play. However, this robs the child of a sense of accomplishment and may make them feel inadequate. The best thing to do is to set small, attainable goals for the child and have them ask for help if they need it. If you believe in them, they will believe in themselves.
Give Short and Simple Instructions
When giving instructions, keep them brief and get straight to the point. Anything else will only confuse the kids and cause them to tune out, regardless of whether they have autism. It is also helpful to do a physical demonstration of the movements you want them to learn for better understanding.
Provide Visual Cues
Children with autism often find it difficult to adjust to change and unfamiliar situations. They learn a lot better when visual cues are given. Using drawings or pictures when teaching the kids will allow them to more easily pick up the sequence of actions required of them. For example, a visual schedule of going to the locker room, changing into gym attire and lining up with classmates can be very helpful for the kids.
The task variation technique is an effective way to teach students important skills. To use it, engage the children in different activities frequently but go back to the important skill every couple of minutes. For example, in a running class, the important skill may be running with elbows bent. In the class, the teacher can assign various activities like running a lap or playing tag. Whenever, the students forget the skill, running through that skill again will gradually help them to learn it.
Take Note of Sensory Challenges
Some children with autism are more sensitive to sensory input and can get overwhelmed by excessive noise or visual stimuli. For these students, calming supports such as weighted vests and stress balls can help to relax them.
Teachers need to address the emotional experiences of their students. Whenever, a child masters a new skill, celebrate with them. If a child scrapes their knee, empathize with them. This will help the children hone their social-emotional skills, regardless of whether they have autism or not.
Reward with the Child’s Special Interest
Many children with autism have a special interest. Instead of trying to discourage their special interest, teachers can sometimes use it as a way to reward the child for participating in the class or for appropriate behavior. This can be very effective for teaching kids with autism. To engage a child with autism, teachers can even make up games for the whole class to play that is modeled after a special interest.It is important to note that autism is a ‘spectrum’ disorder and all kids with autism are unique. Something that is effective with one child may not work on another child. However, these tips can still be very useful for creating an inclusive class environment.