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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Athletics 4 Autism: Yoga, Cheerleading, Taekwondo and Wrestling


Yoga, Cheerleading, Taekwondo and Wrestling. I am not so sure I want to teach my kid the last two. I have visions of being pinned to the ground in Walmart after a meltdown.



Athletics big boost for kids with autism

At a track meet the other day, 13-year-old Mason Quinn looked like any other competitor.

"He's as coachable as any kid we've ever had," said coach and teacher Tom Thompson of Lakota Plains Junior School, where Mason is in seventh grade. "Great attitude. Makes you smile every day.

"We don't treat him any different, and he doesn't expect us to."

But Mason is different. At age 5, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

Parents Mark and Lisa Quinn of West Chester Township say Mason has benefited from sports in a variety of ways, from easing his acceptance by peers to teaching that success comes from hard work. They hope that by telling their story, other children with autism and their parents might be encouraged to explore athletics.

That's also the goal of Heath and Fitness for Autism Weekend, a first-of-its-kind event sponsored by Families with ASD, a local non-profit organization for families affected by autism. Nine free clinics Saturday and Sunday in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky will offer young people an introduction to activities such as yoga, cheerleading, taekwondo and wrestling.

About 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism, a developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. It's considered a "spectrum disorder" because it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Asperger's is a mild form of autism.

"It's always bothered me that kids with autism were not more involved in sports," said Doug Blecher, board president of Families with ASD and organizer of the weekend clinics.

He's a therapist trained in applied behavior analysis, one of a number of therapies used to improve the lives of children with autism. He believes athletic activities complement those therapies, and he's not alone.

Geraldine Dawson and Michael Rosanoff are the chief science officer and assistant director of research and public health, respectively, for Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group. On the organization's Web site, they write:

"Besides improving fitness, motor function, and behavior in individuals with autism, among the most important advantages of physical activity are the social implications of participating in sports and exercise."

More than half of children with autism are either overweight or at risk of it, Dawson and Rosanoff say.

But participation in physical activities can be especially challenging for such children for reasons that include limited motor function, lack of motivation, and the potential for sensory overload.

"People look at people with autism and see the deficits," said Blecher. "They don't really see what they're capable of."

Mason has shown what he's capable of, even though he, too, struggles with social and communication skills.

FULL STORY HERE




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