Off-Site Training: Considerations for Training Children with Special Needs

TAGS: Playground, off-site, schedule, they are not angry birds, Sheena Leedham, Blaine Tate, autism, children, gym, training

There comes a time when training takes the shape of a different form: you leave the four-wall gym you call “home” and complete sets and reps somewhere new.

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Often in response to life and malfunction, we’ve had to train somewhere outside of our comfort zone: incorporate bands in the hotel exercise room while on vacation, climb high school bleachers to appease the neighbors annoyance of steel Prowler® skis scraping the pavement, or “rearrange” household furniture because holiday gym hours conflict with turkey time.

But then there's also this: a 12-year old client asks to bike ride to the playground in place of training in the gym setting. How do you get to this point when this same client, a few months ago, cringed at the face of change? What do you do? Do you listen or dismiss the request? Can structure be provided at a PLAYground?

Especially when training children with special needs, this endeavor is a huge step, and many things need to be considered: parental permission, safety precautions, equipment, structure, transferrable skills, uncontrollable variables, and child expectancies.

blaine bike ride bryce playground 090414

This article is intended to help with the process of training off-site, allowing you to make use of a new environment while getting closer to your client’s training goals.

A big first question is how do you get to this point in training. One year ago, I wasn’t sure we’d ever be leaving the compound as any slight change in programming caused Blaine anxiety and agitation. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, all change (new exercises, schedule rotation, equipment selection) had to be incorporated slowly and buffered with familiarity, reinforcement and choice.

Interestingly, getting to this point in our training was a natural progression and, as I’ve witnessed with other clients, it should be.

Aside from the unique relationship that I have with Blaine, the events leading up to this point of training off-site began with timing our recumbent 2-mile bike ride. As Blaine continued to beat his previous record, over a course of five weeks, the weather was transitioning from cool to warm and staying light longer (we train at 6 PM). A change in equipment—using a bicycle (the real kind where you actually pedal and GO SOMEWHERE) instead of a recumbent bike—became the ideal choice to continue to shave off time from our previous record.

Shortly after the bicycle was introduced, we began with short races and “follow the leader” games within the lumbar yard to get acclimated. Blaine hadn’t ridden a bicycle for over a year. Before long, it was time to retest our 2-mile. It was then that I  presented the idea (to Dave, then Blaine) of riding down the street (about a block away) to use the mile markers on the Ohio to Erie Trail to accurately measure and time our 2-mile. Using this trail as our “off-site” go-to for a couple of weeks, intermixing timed rides with joyrides, Blaine eventually asked, “Can we ride our bikes to the ‘big playground’ by McDonalds?”

playground blaine monkey bars offsite 090514

Super surprised by his request, I knew how big this idea really was and that mental barriers were fading. I told him, that I loved the idea and that after I ran it past his dad, we would make a plan to drive to and train at the playground. As you can see, my response was slightly modified to meet both of our needs: get permission, alter the idea of bike riding TO driving to escape the dangers of riding through heavy traffic, and slip in “train there” to set in place what we’d be accomplishing there (we’d be completing work similar to what we accomplish in the gym).

Dave was fine with idea and after receiving his permission, it was set that Blaine and I would be training at the playground the following week. In the meantime, here’s the groundwork that took place in order to best prepare for our off-site experience:

Just as I visualize our gym—its equipment and environment (social and physical)—when programming, I approached training off-site in the same manner. Therefore, I drove to the park where the playground is located and walked the grounds to get a better grasp of the equipment and its layout. More than just a pit of gravel with a Swing-N-Slide, this particular location has a picnic pavilion, a gazebo, a wooden train, multiple swing sets, two jungle gyms, and grass space stretching across approximately five acres of land.

Beginning with where I parked, to what I first saw while stepping outside of my car, I made a mental note of my surroundings. Keep in mind, my goals for this off-site experience were to mimic our training schedule onsite (similar layout of schedule components), utilize the grounds as best as we could, choose exercises and activities that would compliment our current progression, and test strengths and skills.

Considering everything I wanted for us to accomplish, once I got home with a fresh image of the park, I created the schedule:

blaine playground schedule 090314

 Taking a closer look at the schedule. The first goal was to mimic our normal training schedule. Therefore, we began with our warm-up at the gym and completed two exercises before our break. Since our break gives us a chance to drink and talk, this was a great opportunity to drive to the park. You’ll also see in the schedule familiar verbiage, rep and set schemes, choice, and our typical ending. All of these familiarities help with everything that was so new with this off-site endeavor. As I mentioned earlier, the layout and utilization of space was considered. Therefore, the exercises I picked and the order in which they were situated eliminated the axillary areas of the park (the picnic pavilion, open space, and gazebo) that could potentially waste time, contain lots of people, and/or have us get closer to the main street.

When choosing the playground exercises, I considered if and how each exercise would compliment or test a similar movement/skill previously performed in the gym. Therefore, instead of stagnantly hanging off a chin-up bar while playing Angry Bird Throw, we’d use a zip-line to grip onto and move through space. Instead of crawling under and over picnic tables in the parking lot, we’d crawl through a tunnel-like wooden train, forcing us to maintain body position until reaching the light at its end. Instead of tire-step ups (one up-and-down stepping movement) we’d climb tall stairs that led to a winding slide. Instead of using the cue to land on both feet while performing jumps using the agility ladder, he’d be cued to land on the ground with both feet when his grip weakened while climbing the monkey bars.

blaine in the train playground offsite 090514

This experience was a very positive one. We accomplished everything on the schedule and thankfully were not presented with any dangers. Going off-site at least once per month is something I’d like to incorporate. With a few areas close to the gym, I’d even consider having a mission task at an off-site location (no more than three assignments to complete) and everything else in our schedule would remain on-site.

As for next time, there are a few modifications that’ll be included. For starters, when we attempt the monkey bars again, they’ll be assisted. Granted, he had enough courage to hold onto the bar and hang (heavily prompted), he was scared in removing one hand at a time to grab the next bar. I think if I support him by holding his feet while providing cues, it will allow him to get used to the movement and lessen strain and fear.

blaine climbing playground 090514

Another change that’ll be made is to make use of areas in the playground he strayed away from: the chained step-wall and parallel bars. These areas were not scheduled but he went out of his way to neglect them.

Training off-site can be a fun opportunity to gauge strength, weakness, and transfer of skills. It changes the pace of things, contains excitement, and forces a new self- and peer-awareness to surface. Don’t assume that everything will take care of itself when going off-site and that the thrills and frills of something new be enough to stand on it’s own. Instead, through appropriate planning, use a new space as a way to get closer to your client’s training goals, bridging any gaps between success in the gym and success outside of the gym.

YouTube Playlist: Children’s Exercises (Blaine Tate Approved)

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