Moving Therapy to the Gym: The Benefits of Gymnastics for Children with Autism

Rings for gymnastics(つり輪)


Photo by kawanet

The sport of gymnastics can provide children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) access to a differentiated approach, which potentially can create a model program to meet each child’s individual needs in a unique and effective manner. Gymnastics is a sport that provides an enriching environment filled with opportunities for sharpening the mind by stimulating the brain, fostering social skills, and strengthening gross and fine motor skills, while providing children with ASD an alternative method for learning and developing new skills.

Concentration or focus is required in each skill that is executed in the sport of gymnastics. Learning to focus in the gym can allow for increased attention to tasks outside of the sport of gymnastics. Children with ASD have the opportunity to develop the vestibular system and increase spatial awareness through various connections that the brain is building when performing routines on different apparatus that involve using various gymnastic skills.   The sport of gymnastics provides a highly structured and organized environment in which a child with ASD is able to learn at his/her own pace.  In addition to skills that initiate brain development, it is important to nurture and reinforce positive mental qualities.   Some of the ways that this can be performed is through modeling gymnastics elements, taking advantage of teachable moments, and providing positive reinforcement aligned with instruction.

As children with ASD continue to develop their social skills, they transition from home to school settings and other environments (e.g. gym) where they begin to experience a wide range of opportunities to communicate.   All of these interactions will have a substantial impact on the language and speech development of each child with ASD.  Interaction with other teammates and coaches allows for increased appropriate use of paralinguistic behaviors such as taking turns, listening and following directions, making verbal requests, and making eye contact with peers.

The sport of gymnastics provides a sensory-rich environment while simultaneously using physical exercise to develop fine and gross motor skills in children with ASD.  Gross motor skills (i.e. running, climbing, jumping) and fine motor skills (i.e. manipulating a hula hoop) are developed through gymnastics skills such as running and jumping on the springboard into the foam pit, climbing a rope, and other related activities.

Gymnastics also provides a learning environment for children with ASD by providing creative approaches for teaching each child new skills. Gymnastics instructors can organize and shape each learning opportunity to correlate with each child’s targeted learning goal(s) while allowing for additional exploratory time. In gymnastics, it is important to allow children time to feel comfortable with the skill before they attempt to execute it (i.e., one child may approach the end of the beam and jump cautiously, where another child may take quick steps with no hesitation when jumping).  Each child is provided with a tailor-made learning environment which allows the instructor to adapt and modify the program based on the child’s individual needs.

Gymnastics programs can potentially aid in providing a functional and invaluable learning environment for children with ASD.  Therefore, it is advantageous for parents and professionals to collaborate in defining, planning, and implementing participation in recreational activities (Potvin, Prelock & Snider, 2008).   Gymnastics gives children with ASD an opportunity to experience the joys of success through their individual achievements, or from the success of their teammates. Moving therapy to the gym could provide immeasurable opportunities for children with ASD, and promote generalization of learned skills to his/her natural environment.

References

Potvin, M.C., Prelock, P.A. & Snider, L. (2008).  Collaborating to support meaningful participation in recreational activities of children with autism spectrum disorder.  Topics in Language Disorders, 28(4), 365-374.  Retrieved from:  http://www.uvm.edu/~pprelock/articles/Potvin%20Prelock%20Snider%20Collab%20Support%20Recreational%20Activities%20Children%20ASD.pdf

 

 

Jourdan Saunders, M.S, CF-SLP, received her Master’s degree at Loyola University in Maryland. She is currently completing her Clinicial Fellowship year in the Miami Dade County Public School System in Florida.  She is the creator of the website, Futureslps.com and has a blog that is linked to her website.  She created the website to provide resources, inspiration and motivation for individuals who have chosen to major in the field of Speech Language Pathology.  Futureslps.com is directed towards students, but anyone can benefit from the resources provided on the site.  Jourdan has a gymnastics background of 23 years, she is looking forward to developing gymnastics programs for children with special needs.

A Quick And Easy Guide for Goal Writing

I think it is important to set goals on an ongoing basis. I am making a conscious effort to take the time to write down my goals for 2011, and create a program that will make it easy for me to see achievements in my life. In previous years, I wrote down my goals in a book and then never really went back to look at them. The problem was that, while I may have achieved many of the goals, I did not track progress for each goal. I am a visual learner and that is why I created this quick and easy guide for goal writing, so I thought I would share it with everyone.

Goal writing is for fearless individuals who are not afraid to take risks along the way. Goal writing is similar to a hiker taking his first hiking trip and not knowing where to begin. The individual must begin by assessing the terrain, or developing some type of plan of action. Even the most experienced hiker needs a plan, a roadmap, or guidebook to help them during a hike, just like each individual needs a specific framework or structure when formulating and modifying goals.

The key for goal setting is to set goals that are achievable for you on a personal level. Try not to just go through the motions, but really invest time in writing down the specific goals that you want to achieve. Be realistic about a timeframe in which you would like to achieve these goals, and then begin taking the necessary steps to accomplish what you have mapped out. Remember, these should be goals that apply to your life, and not what someone else wants for you. Determine how you will measure progress for your goals (e.g. weekly log), and do not forget to have fun reaching the goals that you have set. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you fail to meet a goal within the timeframe that you have set for yourself.

It won’t always be easy, and you may experience a few setbacks, but be committed to staying on that path to attain success in your life. You will find that by setting goals, you can provide a framework for your life that will grow new opportunities, and give you the motivation to strive to continue to be the best you can be!

Goal chart designed by Jourdan Saunders, M.S, CF-SLP

Goal Writing Guide by Jourdan Saunders, M.S., CF-SLP

Jourdan Saunders, M.S, CF-SLP, is a recent graduate of Loyola University in Maryland. She is currently completing her Clinicial Fellowship year in the Miami Dade County Public School System in Florida.  She is the creator of the website, Futureslps.com and has a blog that is linked to her website.  She created the website to provide resources, inspiration and motivation for individuals who have chosen to major in the field of Speech Language Pathology.  Futureslps.com is directed towards students, but anyone can benefit from the resources provided on the site.  Jourdan can also be found on Twitter @futureslps.