Relative Aggression

TAGS: We are Not Angry Birds, sibling, Sheena Leedham, Bryce Tate, brothers, Blaine Tate, autism, dave tate

"They’re polar opposites of each other in almost every single way. What brothers at this age don’t 'hate' each other?” This is how Dave describes his sons. Blaine and Bryce Tate are two boys that couldn’t be any different from one another. Imagine Blaine: 12-years old, non-athletic, quiet, introverted, calm, playful, and autistic. Imagine Bryce: 10-years old, athletic, loud, extroverted, busy, competitive, and neurotypical.

Now, place both boys in one room, under one roof.

You’ve guessed right—within minutes personal space is invaded, items are confiscated, tempers rise, and feelings are hurt. Give them a few more minutes together and now tears, aggravation, and pain are part of every action.

Does this snapshot describe the relationship between your kids, students, or clients? If your answer is YES, this article will serve as a starting place to elicit healthy behavior and camaraderie between familial combatants.

With a little planning and personalization, Blaine and Bryce exercise, play, take turns, and follow directions within a gym setting—two brothers who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other. Regardless of ability, skill set or sensitivities, they come together. As Dave describes the gym as an equalizer, “it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re going through, and how strong you are, when you’re in the gym all that bullshit disappears,” why not take this opportunity as a parent, teacher, or trainer  to use this (with a little planning and personalization) to your advantage?

PLANNING

In the planning phase, rather than focusing on the differences between Blaine and Bryce to guide the planning process, I instead fixated on what they shared in common. Therefore, the overarching question was, “What are the boys trying to 'gain' from this experience?” By asking this question, I discovered four components to incorporate within their program: fun, challenge, attention, and originality. These components were brainstormed as a 10-12-year old and then articulated by me. Therefore, fun would have to motivate both boys to do anything strenuous or out of their comfort zone. The challenging aspect would fulfill Bryce's competitiveness, yet still be perceived as play for Blaine. Both boys would need personal attention throughout and know that each mattered through praise, choice, and redirection. Lastly, this hour had to be new and different in some way than what they've experienced before.

CREATING THE SCHEDULE

The next step was to create a plan that was fun, challenging, attentive, and new. My first move in this process was to pick and choose everything I wanted Blaine to accomplish, based on his progress or lack of progress from the week prior. It’s important to mention that these exercises/games were organized in the format Blaine was familiar with. As mentioned in a previous article, when introducing something new—in this case, adding Bryce to the equation—I always balance it with experiences that are familiar and attainable.

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Once I assured that Blaine felt like he was in a stable and familiar environment with similar demands, I then considered how I could tweak each exercise, if need be, by slightly changing position, adding weight, or increasing reps to challenge Bryce and meet his needs.

With the bulk of the schedule outlined (what we’d accomplish), my second move was to incorporate the elements of fun, challenge, and originality (the how). In this case, “the how” would serve as the vehicle that would allow Blaine and Bryce to move from point A to point B with a flow and without distraction, fighting, or unexpected detour. In other words, they’d be too concerned with this element that they wouldn’t have the chance to go for each other’s throats.

SETUP

I prepared as many plastic Easter eggs as there were exercises/transitions. One egg was placed at each exercise/transition location pinpointed by the schedule. Inside each egg contained two folded post-it notes—a blue note for Blaine and an orange note for Bryce. As an example, an egg was placed on the incline bench’s ankle pad because “Incline Bench Sit-ups x 10 reps *Find Egg” was written on the schedule. After reading, “Find Egg” they’d race to its location, find the egg, pick it up, and then hand it to me. In order to open the egg (by taking turns), they both had to complete the prescribed exercise and rep range by modeling correct form. Again taking turns post-exercise, Blaine or Bryce would open the egg and each would collect their color-coded note, unfold it, and read it. One word or a phrase was written on each note.

Once the schedule read “Combine Easter Egg Post-its” they could arrange their collection of post-its to form the message I had written them. Each message would be personalized and give them directions to create something of their own (a game, exercise, or obstacle course) using specific gym equipment.

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SCHEDULE DETAILS

As most of the above exercises are self-explanatory, here are extra details to further illustrate how we executed each one. Our modifications are included as well.

Decline Bench Sit-ups: Using a decline bench, secure feet under ankle pad. In upright-seated position and arms crossed over stomach or chest, lower torso until back makes contact with bench. Blaine competed these with no added weight. Bryce held an 8-pound medball.

Hanging Leg Raise: Place a step-up box below hanging leg raise stand to get into position. Back should be against pad, elbows and forearms against arm pad, and hands gripping handles. Raise straightened legs 90 degrees. Lower slowly to starting position.

Reverse Hyper: Step up onto plate loader and lean onto pad to grip handles. Maintaining straight legs, raise legs 90 degrees. Blaine and Bryce did not use a strap, only bodyweight.

Bike Ride: We have a bike trail behind the compound. It’s labeled with mile markers. Set a timer and see how long it takes to bike two miles. For a few weeks, try to beat the previous time. At this point, it was our fourth attempt of beating our previous time. Week one took us 18 minutes to bike two miles. Week two we dropped two minutes from our time. Week three we dropped another two minutes from our time. This week our goal was to bike two miles in less than 14 minutes.

Plyobox Sit & Stand with Medball Throw: Position three plyoboxes in a triangle, approximately three feet apart from each other. Each person begins by standing in front of his or her box (as if you’re going to box squat). One person will be holding a medball. He or she will toss the medball to one of the two players. The catcher will sit down onto the box with the medball in hand. As he or she throws the medball, he or she will stand up. We setup an order (Sheena throws it to Blaine, Blaine throws to Bryce, Bryce throws it back to Sheena) to follow before starting so that no one would be caught off guard and a tempo would begin. Eventually there was no order; everyone had to pay attention at all times.

Blaine’s Post-it Message: Blaine’s message read: "Blaine, create a game using eight foam rollers, a piece of chalk, and one medball." His idea was to create a fort using the foam rollers. The medball was used as a wrecking ball to destruct the fort. Each player made his or her fort and then picked another to destroy it. A line of chalk served as a boundary point that could not be crossed when attempting to destroy the fort.

Bryce’s Post-it Message: Bryce’s message read: "Bryce, create an obstacle course using the foam balance beam, the agility ladder, and six hurdles." After his setup, we had to jump in every ladder square, walk across the balance beam, rotate crawling under and over the hurdles, and finish with three push-ups. We went through this three times and each time he made slight changes. Therefore, it turned into “Follow the Leader.”

Pain Release: This is a creation of Blaine’s. We used to end our sessions with Trigger Release. Pain Release commonly uses two players, one medball, and one flat bench. The point of this game is to remain tight as a medball crashes down onto your stomach at varying heights. To play, one person is to lay flat on the bench as another player drops a medball at varying heights onto the player's stomach. The player lying down controls the height of the ball and says "release" for the other player to release the ball from his or her hands.

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RESULTS

The goal in the planning stage was to create an experience for Blaine and Bryce by creating a gym schedule that met their needs. Instead of dwelling on their differences and expecting a crisis, a program was built on what they shared in common. In 60 minutes, we completed the schedule in its entirety and there was no name-calling, bullying, fighting, or frustration.

Believe it or not, they were patient with each other (helps that there is only one piece of equipment and their ability to open their egg was dependent on their behavior), Bryce demonstrated good form, which motivated Blaine to reciprocate (more so than if I modeled form to him), and they worked together (counted for each other and took turns).

In Blaine and Bryce’s situation, they needed constant motivation, (re)direction, and engagement to get through the schedule—fun, challenge, attention, and originality. The message system worked for us because it served as a repetitive reminder that “my behavior is important, I have choice, I’m getting constant attention, and I’m being rewarded by playing” —all the things these two boys crave.

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

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