Social Skill Integration Through Movement and Strength: Off-Site Team Training

TAGS: Off-site Team Training, physical fitness, partner training, social intervention, child development, social integration, program structure, team training, gym training, gym etiquette, autism spectrum disorder, children fitness, social skills, movement, special needs, Autism training, they are not angry birds, aspergers, Sheena Leedham, autism, strength training

Through witnessing a countless number of programs designed and implemented by individuals interested in creating positive change for children and young adults on the autism spectrum, I’ve seen remarkable advancements in social skills through an active, hands-on/experience-based approach.

This eight-article series provides ideas to advance an inactive, socially craving child/young adult into a physically and socially strong individual through movement and strength. We begin at the gym and through progressive types of training travel off-site, shifting from one-to-one training to team training, to play dates with friends (one example, mind you).

In the previous five training types, social interaction and engagement have continually matured as the environmental climate of training has moved in new directions. More and more, our overall experience hinges on our ability to connect, first with one another, and then with those surrounding us. Everything leading up to this point has prepared us for this type of training — sharing the entire training experience with at least one partner off-site.

Off-site Team Training

What, Where

This type of training takes place at an off-site location. It’s a weekly commitment to complete movement-based objectives off-site with a training partner or group of partners. Choose locations that are movement-based that will refine previously learned objectives, social and physical, and introduce new experiences and challenges.


RECENT: Social Skill Integration Through Movement and Strength: Team Training at the Gym


For our purposes, team training implies that one or multiple training partners will accompany the child for the duration of the training session.

Finding A Match

We have options. Thankfully these never run dry.

Option 1

Use the same training partner/s from the previous training type to transition from the gym to off-site training. Do assess how this pairing will benefit everyone involved. Never should this pairing be executed for the sake of simplicity – it must have true value and the union has to help everyone involved (even if it’s not particularly easy at first). This starting place has the power to provide familiarity and positive association as we move to uncharted territory and unleash creativity and confidence that otherwise would be lacking. That being said, this pairing may no longer be suitable as we leave the gym walls.

Option 2

As noted in previous types of training, it is suitable to switch partners as deemed necessary. Perhaps the gym training partner is not interested in training off-site, perhaps additional fees for transportation and facility admission are not in the budget, or perhaps he’s just not ready for this type of training. If this is the case, that’s fine. Find someone who is ready and willing. Remember, the training partner may be a friend or sibling, someone who is around the same age or training age — with or without autism.

Social Integration

Off-site Team Training provides an opportunity to further develop awareness of self in space, build upon training associations, learn new coping skills, strengthen relationships, and experience movement within the community. These benefits are available to existing training partners and to new. In no particular order:

Securing Familiarity in New Space 

You know that feeling when you step into a new space alone. It's either one of exhilaration or anxiousness. When we enter a new space with someone familiar, we perceive everything around us differently — it may lead to extra creativity, less uncertainty, a sense of familiarity, and a stronger backbone. These attitude aides lessen anxiety, allowing us to try new things and shift our energy from mitigating through perceived dilemmas to welcoming complex challenges.

70/30

This is a great opportunity for the children to model new coping skills to each other as new stressors are prevalent. As much as we’d hope that every child could give 100% effort, 100% of the time, this is unrealistic. Shifting of effort between two or more training partners is in constant flux. For whatever reason (he's uncomfortable standing next to strangers, she's scared to drive through a rain storm, he's losing patience with wait time, she's annoyed by the flashing lights, the activity is perceived as excruciating, he had a bad day at school, etc.,) there’s great possibility that the pair or team will begin to become attune with each other and if one is only producing 30% of effort, the others will fulfill the remaining 70%. In this process, the child in the deficit learns a new approach to getting through whatever is impairing their behavior and rises to the occasion. Maybe from the help of her team, she learns to ask for a break as a friend accompanies her. This could be the difference between a meltdown or a few minutes alone to regain calmness and energy for participation. Do not confuse this with pity or learned helplessness.

Redefining the Training Experience

The definition of training is ever-changing.  No longer is it compartmentalized as something we do in the gym alone or with one other, performing a series of sets and reps using weights. Although the gym serves as our foundation, the training association goes well beyond this.

As we relocate a group of connected individuals outside of the gym to train, the mindset attached to training evolves.

Planning Behind the Schedule

As you begin to plan for training off-site, start by choosing movement-based locations that have minimal working parts. Working parts are all the things that directly impact behavior and, as such, must be taken into consideration. These include, but are not limited to, distance from home, lines, wait time, admission, registration, waivers, extra space, staff supervision, lots of people, and brand new activities. On the low end of working parts, I'd suggest trails, recreational parks, the school track and field, and playgrounds as your first off-site options. Branch out to locations/facilities such as trampoline parks, putt putt golf, batting cages, roller skating, rock climbing, laser tag, corn mazes, and bowling when appropriate.


MORE: Take Your Training Day to the Trampoline Park


Consider moving off-site as a drastic change, therefore everything else that makes up this day should aim to keep the children cool and calm. If you were to stay in the gym, the likelihood of you introducing a variety of new stimuli from multiple directions in overflow is slim; the fact that you are now moving off-site doesn't mean this is acceptable.

Here’s the groundwork that took place in order to best prepare for an off-site training session at a local recreational park.

I drove to the park 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 and this was reflected in the schedule.

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

It goes without saying,  as you create the schedule, that you should secure extra support with the help of volunteers and plan for the unexpected.

Schedule

To give you something tangible to work with, here is an example of a 60-minute schedule that was based on the observations above. Obviously, your plan will look much different depending upon the needs of the children and the resources available, but it will at least give you pace, ideas of how to organize a plan, activity ideas, and ways to maximize off-site space. Through the selection, make special note of how the social order will naturally occur.

My goals for this off-site experience were to mimic our team training schedule onsite (similar layout of schedule components), utilize the grounds as best as we could, eliminate distractions, choose exercises and activities that would compliment our current progression, test strengths and skills, and have fun. Notes to follow.


60-minute Schedule Outline

5 minutes: Greet and meet/Brief with parents/Read schedule 

5 minutes: Drive to Park

5 minutes: Warm-up

  • Take turns climbing through the wooden train x 3

10 minutes: Work

  • Swing chair pumps — pump legs together for 60 seconds, take turns pumping for 60 seconds x 5
  • Climb straight-bar monkey bars from one end to the other x 5

10 minutes: Circuit x 3 on 40-second intervals

  • Zip-line hang from end to end
  • Walk/jump/run stairs to loop slide and slide down

5 minutes: Rest/Drink/Eat at picnic table

10 minutes: Game — Capture the Flag

5 minutes: Drive back to the gym

5 minutes: Goodbye/Brief with parents


Notes

Taking a closer look at the schedule, the first goal was to mimic our gym training schedule. Verbiage, time allotment, and order remains similar. In these first few sessions as our off-site choices are close by in proximity, the gym will continue to serve as our starting place, behavior gauge, safety zone, parental collaboration spot, and transitional piece to get us where we’re going. Read the schedule as a group per usual but then also have a copy to refer to as you move off-site.

As I mentioned earlier, the layout and utilization of space eliminated the auxiliary 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.

Every exercise involves the whole group. For the warm-up, rotate the children in circular fashion so everyone has an active role, since only one child will be in the tunnel per turn. Place a child in the tunnel, another at the starting point (waiting for his turn), another to the side of the tunnel to walk the distance of the tunnel as the child crawls, and another at the end of the tunnel to keep a watchful eye. As the child reaches the end, the whole group switches positions and assumes a new role.

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. For example, if pull-ups were part of our regimen in the gym, how fun is it now to test our strength as we grip onto a zip line and fly through space? Activities like these remind us why strength training is so important and now there is greater reason to continue to get stronger (so we can zipline for longer duration, etc.,).

For the circuit, rotate through the exercises every 40 seconds. Every child will have a chance to call time (use the timer) with a 40-second active rest. A spotter (depending how many children there are) can be another active role that helps throughout (form reminder, physical assistance, helps assist the timer, etc.,).

The rest, food, and drink is a mid-way point to talk, relax, review the schedule, discuss what was just accomplished, and strategize as a group. This can be a great time to agree upon rules for the upcoming game. Guide conversation as needed.

For the game, create two territories and two teams. Allow the children to agree upon the rules since there are many interpretations of play. Remind the children they have 10 minutes to play and it may be that no team captures the flag in that time frame. Use previous game experience at the gym to reiterate sportsmanship expectations.

Once back at the gym, close the session with a review of everything we accomplished, things we need to work on, what we can expect for next week, and anything else pertinent to the day’s performance. This is also a great time to give special recognition to small improvements, skill wise and/or socially based.

Transition to Next Training Type

In the next training type, we move from Off-site Team Training to Home Training. This type of training takes place at home.

Placed as number seven within this list, home training transforms into an entire training session instead of a mini assignment. At this point in the progression, the child is well-versed with training in a group dynamic in a variety of environments. Now at home, this is a great opportunity to get the family involved, get creative with indoor and outdoor space, and create new family habits.

Thanks for reading. Please use the comments section below to ask any questions. I’d love to help any way I can.


WHOLE SERIES

  1. Gym Training
  2. ½ Gym, ½ Off-Site Training
  3.  Off-Site Training
  4.  ½ One-to-one, ½ Training Partner
  5. Team Training at the Gym
  6. Off-site Team Training
  7. Home Training 
  8. Play Date with a Friend
  9. Program the Cadence

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