Behavioral Considerations for Individuals with Autism in Physical Activity and Recreation Programs
Behavior is often a method of communication. This is especially true for people with autism who may not be able to communicate their needs, feelings, or sensory concerns in typical ways. Their behaviors may be a response to an unmet need or a delayed ability or skill (cognitive or language delay or sensory issue) and serve as a function to get their needs met. In order to decrease the likelihood of challenging behaviors, it is important to plan the activity or exercise according to the individual's developmental level and to meet their sensory needs. For example, plan activities or exercise that capitalize on an individual's need to exhibit excessive movement by including activities that provide the movement he or she needs to stimulate the body and brain to stay alert and active.
Be aware of the potential for restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors which include, but are not limited to, spinning, rocking, and hand-flapping. Working with, instead of against, some of these behaviors will benefit all involved. For example, if a child throws objects, involving that child in a game that requires throwing, such as bean-bag toss or basketball, will redirect the behavior to functional use. This may require pre-planning for potential issues that may arise.
Developing a plan for behavior management will provide a successful experience that meets the needs of the individual. Visual rules, instructions, and other supports may need to be developed to make expectations clear and concrete. Structured and predictable routines and environments are essential for a child with autism to be successful in participating in activities. There will also be varying degrees of severity and rigid behavior. Strategies for behavior management can include:
- Make use of need for sameness and structure when setting up a consistent exercise plan or activity routine.
- Remove all extra stimuli to reduce distractions and sensory overload and/or set up boundaries to minimize distractions.
- Provide predictable, structured transitions from one activity or event to another.
- Utilize visual directions, such as picture exchange systems and visual picture schedules, and limit verbal directions to a few words or short sentences.
- Be mindful of the length of activities because some children may need frequent changes due to limited attention span, while others, may not.
- Chose safe activities as individuals may not be aware of danger.