As you may know, Blaine (Dave Tate’s son) and I have been training together weekly here at the compound since May of 2013. As this is an extension of Dave’s series, They Are Not Angry Birds, I’ll be sharing my hands-on approach to programming and training for a child with Autism.

Early in our lives, most of us learn a valuable skill set to deal with unforeseen situations and then adjust our original plan accordingly. It is usually a rare occasion in which a sudden change made to our daily regimen will wreck havoc with our mood, debilitate our capability to cope, and distort our perception in how it will affect the rest of the day. Quickly rolling over to Plan B or reconfiguring an entirely new plan, we’ve found, keeps panic at bay, minimizes loss, and has less of a threat affecting others.

Primarily teaching children with autism in the classroom and gym setting, I’ve experienced how abrupt change can elicit an immediate chaotic spiral of emotion and behavior. Although not applicable to every child on the spectrum, in most cases, change has potential to cause many children to experience high anxiety with no ability to rationalize or remain mental and physical cool.

With Blaine’s training, if it were solely up to him, we’d complete a weekly schedule with minuscule modification and variety in intensity. However, based on the program’s goals of having fun, strengthening our relationship, all while getting stronger, change is constant. Therefore, each new exercise presented is an opportunity to spark interest and answer, “What’s in it for me?”

Adding NEW to the schedule

In programming for Blaine, I’ve found three steps to implement when presenting something new within the schedule:

1) Write and draw it.

2) Talk it up.

3) Hook it.

If you can adhere to this process when incorporating new things into the schedule (and modify based on the individual needs of the child) your training program will continue to sophisticate and welcome change while minimizing frustration. With three examples provided below, I’ll show how this three-step process can be utilized.

Note: It’s important to mention that if I’m incorporating something new within the schedule, I’ll choose only one area to adjust. The remaining sections will contain familiar exercises or activities with modified loads, reps, and rest time.

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Disclosure: There will be times you’ll do everything in your power (follow my three steps) to appropriately present something new to your client. Despite your efforts, he or she will want NOTHING to do with it. In these situations, don’t force it. Your best options are to employ your skill set, MOVE ON, and remain POSITIVE.

Sprint Intervals

Never using the treadmill or stationary bike for cardio, I wanted to try something new. With outside temperatures barely breaking 20 degrees, neither of us wanted to pull a sled, carry sandbags, or push the Prowler® outdoors. The solution: Sprint Intervals on Bike While Sheena is on Treadmill.

My first step was to write the title of the exercise on the dry-erase board (very literal) and include a picture of us side by side on the specified machines. To talk it up, I showed exaggerated interest in seeing how fast he could move his legs today. My hook was to see who could reach the one-and-a-half mile marker first. Easing into it, he began to bike at a steady pace. He realized quickly that as he pedaled faster, the mileage climbed at a faster rate. Instead of continuing at a steady pace, he pedaled in spurts and paused just short of the machine going into pause mode. He set my walking speed at 1.5 MPH, therefore, I had no chance of meeting the desired distance before he could. Walking at a snail’s pace, he was laughing throughout his sprint interval work, motivated to beat me. Needless to say, he won. He actually “went the extra mile” and didn’t get off the bike until he pedaled 2.5 miles.

Main/Accessory Work

I’m convinced the slower pace of this section and the critical focus placed on Blaine’s form are two reasons why he likes individual exercises the least. Therefore, when incorporating main and accessory work, I have to include them in a creative way.

To give you an example of what this section may look like, I can chunk dumbbell bench presses (the main movement) with pain release, band tug-of-war, and Shrek slams (accessory movements). In this case, the dumbbell bench work is new and creates the most frustration for Blaine. You’ll notice too, that because the main exercise is new, the accessory work is comprised of exercises we’ve done before. All will aid in his ability to press, as well.

After the exercises are written and drawn on the board, I then highlight the fact (my hook) that he chooses the amount of reps we do for accessory work. Selecting reps and completing familiar exercises during his accessory work also allows me to, if necessary, call upon “now and then” statements as another source of motivation. Therefore, using my words I may say, “Blaine, we’ll now do DB presses and I’ll set the reps so I can check your form. Then, you’ll be able to set your reps for the accessory work.”

And so, once we get to accessory work, I have a hat or bag filled with folded sticky notes. Each sticky note has a different rep scheme written on it, all suitable for accessory work. Looking away or pretending to have his eyes half-closed, he grabs into a bag and chooses one folded sticky note to accompany an accessory.


Obstacle Course

Karl Geissler from PowerMax delivered new equipment for Blaine and I to use approximately five weeks ago. At that time, very excited to test out the Smart Hurdles and Folding Balance Beam (the whole office was pretty excited, too), I was more occupied in how I’d specifically integrate it all within our training. I knew WHY I ordered the equipment, but had yet to figure out HOW it would be introduced. I finally decided that it would be best to present the new equipment within an obstacle course.

Based on the image above, you can see how the course was drawn and laid out. The course began by balancing on the beam, stepping over the hurdles, inch-worming six feet, and it ended by weaving through four upright foam rollers. Accompanying the visual, I also had the balance beam and one hurdle in hand so he could see and feel the equipment as I introduced this section to him. Following my obstacle course (somewhat illustrated through the above visual), he then had a chance to create an obstacle course of his own by using the same equipment.

This arrangement used more than one hook. In this example, my first hook was using the new equipment within his favorite section of training: the obstacle course. By doing this, there was already a sense of comfort before delving into the specifics. My second hook was to readily reference the new equipment by having it in my hand. Therefore, there was no guesswork on his part and he could easily connect the assignment through many angles. The third hook was incorporating familiar equipment with new equipment. Therefore, one half of the obstacle course was new (balance beam/hurdles), and the other half (mat/foam rollers) was comprised of equipment/exercises we had done previously. The last hook was then giving him a chance to have choice by allowing him to create an obstacle course of his own by using the same equipment I used, but advising how he’d like for us to use it.

Overall, change can manifest disaster, and at some point, will. Rather than fearing it and staying in a child’s comfort zone, it’s crucial to provide appropriate experiences that are new, beneficial, flexible, and fun. As demonstrated above, never overlook the importance of communicating through writing, talking, and hooking, especially if you mainly program children/adults with autism. It’s through communication and the gray areas of coaching, that constant change and continual progress for you and your client is attainable.

Don’t sweat the new stuff.

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