Updated: Apr 26, 2021
I'm not a huge believer in kids just doing just the one sport, their movement patterns can become too limited. Personally, I feel that 'movement wise' one sport is marginally better than no sport but not by much, unless coached really well. Kids with ASD can have a seesaw of interest. Many ADHD just need movement but structure can add hugely to their experience.
Sports training for ASD kids needs to be movement based. Tactics and explanations of skill won't work. Skill repetition will work, but the skills need to be simplified as much as possible and built on, rather than being complex and copied. ASD kids will grasp the movements but it will take about 3 times the amount of time of neuro-typical kids.
Children's bodies, in general, have so much potential for movement it's a shame to waste it. ASD kids can struggle greatly with movement patterns, so the more they do, the better they will be. I'm not just talking about using scissors or tying shoelaces. It's running. It's changing direction when running. It's kicking and catching.
ASD kids can take a long time to develop these movement patterns and a short time to lose them. Practice, rehearsal and training are essential, otherwise as they grow into teenagers they will never participate. Parents need to think of the small wins.
From personal experience sometimes even getting our lad to training is difficult but once he's there, he has a ball. Running around with kids, outside of school, can be so rewarding for him. Achieving something that he has worked a long time at e.g. a complex skill is so satisfying for him, us as parents and his coaches.
Everyone can run. How many adults though have been taught how to run? Ever had a sports coach, or trainer, coach you or train you in the mechanics of movement and how best to run? My guess would be no. An approach like this though is essential for kids with ASD. Our lad has been active with various sports camps from around 18 months old, over the last 6 months (due to lockdowns and bad weather) he has stopped moving his arms when running, as there has been no training on. As soon as I noticed, he was out on a field with me, practising his arm movements. Now I've a history in Sport Science and Fitness, so it's easy for me to see, notice and correct but how many kids are being missed?
Simple explainer on running mechanics:
Arms, elbows bent at 90 degrees, movement only in the shoulder joint, open hand touches the side of the face at top end of swing. At the bottom end of the swing, the elbow is level with the shoulder (behind the body). It's a little exaggerated, but a simple action like this (where movement is solely in one joint) can be difficult to master.
Introduce legs, jog on the spot, while competing the above action - observe the limbs at the front, it should be opposite - so if your right elbow is forward, your left knee should be raised - if not try to correct rhythm and find the right co-ordination.
It could take an ASD child a week of 10-15 minutes per day to learn this action. For up to a week.
Are you ready to test yourself, if the above is easy? As you jog on the spot, try and increase your arm speed as fast as possible (keep the 90 degree bend in the elbow). What happens to the legs? They move faster to maintain equilibrium in balance. Not convinced? Start again, but this time slow the arms down and see what happens. The legs will slow, again to maintain an equilibrium.
This simple exercise is just a simple way to highlight the basic movement of running - that everyone does, but very few are trained in. If we don't learn the right mechanics, we can't fulfill our potential - this is even more crucial for ASD kids.