Getting Children with Special Needs Excited to Exercise

TAGS: autism, kids, children, dave tate, training

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Dave,

I have a buddy who has recently become a new foster parent to two boys. He has been trying to get the boys motivated to exercise and be more active. However, the younger one isn't as motivated. They suspect he might have autism (he is currently being tested). He has self-esteem issues, gets discouraged very easily, and has run home from school in the middle of the day on numerous occasions. He's asked me for a favor to come up with a short routine for the 10-year-old boy. They have three- to ten-pound dumbbells, a 25-pound plate, a suspension trainer, a medium-sized tire in the garage, and a sledge hammer. I've read a few of your Angry Birds Articles, but I'm still at a loss. Any help or advice would be appreciated.

Thank you,

Jay

Jay,

There isn't a cookie cutter program; however, my suggestions are:

  1. Positive reinforcement—if they get frustrated, the session will be over.
  2. Find things they like to do.
  3. Keep things in order and let them know the order ahead of time.
  4. Try your best to stay away from records. They love to beat their times or reps, but if they don't, the session will be over.
  5. If they don't want to do it, DO NOT force it. If you do, they will most likely learn to hate it and never want to do it again. The fact is that this should be an outlet for them, and it will become more important once they get older.
  6. I personally feel that group settings for them are more than a trainer can handle. If you are trained to work with these kids, it can be done. But if not, I don't recommend it. These kids are not treated the same by other kids and even autistic adults are not treated the same. While this is something they will need to grow to deal with, this is way beyond the scope of a trainer's job and can create more harm than good. For this to work, you need to build their trust and this isn't easy to do. Many on the spectrum lack empathy and are very hard to read.
  7. If you have a school in your area who works with these kids, or you can find a very good special education teacher, offer to do some volunteer work. You will learn more in one day than you will ever learn online.

I know this sounds like a lot, but here are some things to think about:

These are special kids. I feel strongly that the high-functioning ones will do amazing things. What they might lack in social skills is more than made up in their brilliance.

For whatever reason, Autism is on the rise and will continue to increase. Who is training these kids? Many of them also have sensory processing disorder, and most (not all) schools are doing an awful job working with these kids. This is an untapped market that needs help, but that's only  IF you are willing to learn, have patience, and care. It will NOT be easy but will serve a need that is not being filled.

To back step a bit—the most important thing is for them to look forward to training and have fun. It doesn't matter what you do at first, just get this part right. Even if it means playing Wii Sports with them, you can always build from this. If they don't like it, you have nothing from which to build.

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