AUTISM FITNESS @ HOME is here to help
Henry hates it when people say “okay?” at the end of a sentence. Hearing that one word can cause him anxiety leading to his screaming “okay!” loudly and repeatedly. Because of this, taking Henry to the doctor causes me as well as him a lot of stress.
Supporting Henry and others with autism means knowing that the key to avoiding stress and anxiety is careful preparation before the doctor appointment. One especially useful tool is a social story that we read a few times before the appointment and maybe even on the way there in the car. The story calmly explains that many people use the word okay at the end of a sentence and that he will probably hear it at the doctor’s office. Okay is just a word and he can be calm and take a deep breath when he hears the word. If he can stay calm, mom will be proud of him and he will earn a trip to the mall to ride elevators. Today Henry has an eye doctor appointment. He reads the story to me a few times on the drive. I park the car, take a deep breath and we get out. Please don’t let the first person we see say okay…
As this example illustrates, on a typical day we autism parents have to think about a lot. Simple activities are not as simple for us as they are for most parents. Because of anxiety and cognitive processing differences, our kids don’t experience the world like most people. We need to think ahead and prepare them. They may need to read a social story before trying something new. We may need to make a written schedule telling them what to expect that they can hold onto and refer to on a day when they feel anxious. We can't ever just “wing it” or wait and see what happens.
Right now we are living an experience no one could prepare for. Social isolation has everyone scrambling to figure out a new normal, and that means a new daily structure. For those with autism, anxiety is probably at an all time high because every plan, every calendar, every schedule, is gone. They need predictability now more than ever.
What meaningful and appropriate activities can we include on our daily schedule at home? Perhaps it occurred to you to add exercise into your loved one’s day. That’s a great instinct. There is plenty of research that tells us exercise is one of the best things we can do to reduce stress. It has even been shown to alleviate anxiety disorders and clinical depression. We know physical activity decreases levels of stress hormones and increases levels of endorphins, which elevate mood. We can all use a little more of that these days.
What’s more, lowering the levels of stress and anxiety your child is feeling will reduce the frequency of their anxiety related behaviors (Henry asks the same question or repeats the same phrase over and over when he’s anxious) and might in turn lower the levels of stress in your entire household.
Knowing this should inspire you to give exercise with your autistic offspring a try, even though we know that our kids are not generally motivated to try new things. They tend to want to do the same activities over and over, maybe the same movie or video game, because it’s what they are comfortable with. How do we get them off the couch?
Autism Fitness begins by taking their fundamental differences into account. We know motivation is the number one hurdle we need to get over. Because of this, we have proven reinforcement methods that allow us to get athletes with autism to exercise. These methods work, time after time.
Okay, so maybe you went online and found some exercises. That’s a great beginning, but are those exercises even appropriate for your athlete? How do you know they can do them? What if they do them wrong? Will they get hurt? Once again, here is where Autism Fitness has the answer. Autism Fitness exercises are appropriate and doable for our athletes. They have been carefully chosen because they address the specific physical weaknesses that are typical in those with autism. Eventual mastery of these exercises will allow our athletes to move more efficiently and effectively. This is essential for activities of daily living. Talk about meaningful and appropriate.
In Autism Fitness, we meet our athletes at their current ability level and celebrate every achievement, no matter how small. If your child is successful at something you try together, and they see the excitement in your face, they will want to do it more.
Here’s a little secret: in the year since I started doing this with Henry, he and I have had more joyous shared experience than in the previous 23 years. I don’t think you have to be an autism mom to enjoy doing an activity with your child. But only an autism mom can know what a miracle that is.
Ready to do this? Here is how AUTISM FITNESS @ HOME will work.
I will be sharing short videos produced by Eric Chessen, founder of Autism Fitness. These videos give a concise overview of a single exercise for you to use with your athlete. Then I will follow up with a video of me using Autism Fitness principles to guide Henry through these exercises.
Each time I post a new video, the workout I post will grow by one exercise. That way you will be able to see how we can train as a circuit and see the cuing we use to move from one exercise to another. Please feel free to ask questions! You can comment on the Facebook post or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am looking forward to forming an interactive community where we share and help one another through these trying times.