WATCH: Defining Autism — Beyond the Label [Documentary]

TAGS: autism documentary, what is autism, autism awareness, Haugland Learning Center, fitness for kids, special needs, angry birds, they are not angry birds, Traci Tate, Sheena Leedham, autism, dave tate

Every single day I just want a really good day. A peaceful day. As in, not bugged. Just left alone. In peace.

Who is Blaine?

You can ask Dave: "He is extremely independent, but at the same time when he's around a group of people he's a prankster and a jokester. He's just my son and I love him."

Or you can ask Traci: "Blaine is funny. He is lovable. He's explosive. He does his own thing when he wants to do his own thing. You name it, he can be whatever he wants to be."

When Blaine was in second grade and his parents first heard the word autism applied to their son, Dave revolted. The last thing he ever wanted was to label his son. Autism. That word, or any other, didn't work. He couldn't be defined by it. As Dave researched and read more about autism and the symptoms, he had a realization: everyone experiences these things. Everyone struggles with change and can be sensitive to sounds or become emotional and combative. Everyone lacks empathy at times. Everyone is angry, passionate, and anti-social. These are experiences well-known by everyone.


RELATED: They are NOT Angry Birds!


The reality is that there is a spectrum to autism, and that helping a child with autism means navigating them through the spectrum. It means understanding them and providing them what they need.

Take Sheena Leedham's opinion about the definition of autism: "Autism is brain disorder and it affects your social ability, cognitive function, and physical development. [But] I don't use that definition to define what I do in my approach to working with children with autism. I'm thinking of it as the individual that is in front of me." When Sheena works with a person, her focus isn't on autism or the implications of the word. All that matters is where the person is on that day, how they feel in the moment, and what their interests are.

This documentary is the culmination of years of intimate interaction with a child with autism. Interaction as a father, a mother, an educator, a trainer, and a friend.

"Beyond the Label" explores the link between a physically healthy lifestyle and a state of emotional well-being. It demonstrates the impact that healthy physical activity can have on a person's life — particularly an individual on the autism spectrum. It explores questions such as what does the autism label mean? Does it help or hurt the child? How do parents work with their child if they are on the autism spectrum? And what does all of this have to do with strength training and fitness?

In Blaine's case, one of the biggest challenges was education. He faced immense struggle within the school system because he wasn't being provided a safe learning environment. The public school system was not designed to help him. This led to Dave and Traci exploring options and enrolling Blaine in the Haugland Learning Center — a decision that changed everything for Blaine.

In the documentary, Dave discusses his Angry Birds series, which detailed his experiences as a parent of a child with autism. He shares how posting those articles led to an outpouring of feedback from individuals who also had experience working with children with autism. This articles series eventually led to another series, written by Sheena Leedham, on how physical activity could be an outlet for Blaine to use his energy in a positive manner. Her column provides programming for social integration through movement and strength and also documents the curriculum she provides for The Ohio State University's Nisonger Center.


MORE: A New Kid Under the Bar


Where Dave couldn't train his son, Sheena became the person able to provide what Blaine needed. This began as an opportunity to treat exercise as play and to celebrate minute accomplishments. It then grew into setting bigger goals and working week after week to achieve them. But it wasn't only the goals that grew — it was also the meaning of the word training. Sheena explains the process through which she expanded Blaine's understanding of training to not only mean what happens in the gym, but to also include off-site activities and the inclusion of other individuals, or trainer partners.

As one of their biggest successes, Sheena tells the story of a time that one of Dave's biggest fears came to life: Blaine had a meltdown one day when he and Sheena traveled to a nearby school track for an off-site workout. Upset by his memories of the school, Blaine became upset. Sheena listened, heard Blaine's concerns, and let him calm down. After a short discussion, the decision was made: Sheena and Blaine were still going to the school and they were still going to run the bleachers. On this day, Blaine overcame his past negative experiences at the school and defeated the emotional blocks that had held him back.

Moving forward beyond this, Sheena and Blaine set a bigger goal: a 5K at the Columbus Zoo. Sheena introduced this like she would any other training activity by setting a schedule and keeping the experience positive for Blaine. Not only was the 5K a success, but they plan to compete again in 2017 (May 21st) and are already discussing the squat, bench press, and deadlift — movements Blaine has rebelled against in the past.

By the minute:

  • 0:08 — Who is Blaine?
  • 0:42 — What Blaine wants every day
  • 2:18 — Dave Tate defines Autism
  • 3:05 — Dr. Haugland defines Autism
  • 4:29 — Sheena Leedham defines Autism
  • 5:02 — Jason Guild defines Autism
  • 5:40 — Behavioral and cognitive ability for children with Autism
  • 6:20 — Dave's marriage and effects of Autism on relationships
  • 8:27 — Challenges of the public school system
  • 9:30 — Introduction to Haugland Learning Center
  • 11:00 — They Are Not Angry Birds! Column
  • 15:05 — Sheena's column on physical training
  • 15:14 — The role of physical training and social development
  • 19:25 — Moving off-site for training
  • 19:55 — Navigation through mental blocks and negative memories of the public school
  • 22:01 — Positive reinforcement system — McDonald's
  • 22:46 — Programming for 5K
  • 25:00 — The inclusion of Squat, Bench and Deadlift
  • 26:00 — Redefining Autism and moving beyond the label

 

They Are Not Angry Birds Series 

Sheena Leedham's Series 

power rack

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