Navigating the minefield of extracurricular activities

I know we looked completely crazy to the parents sitting near us in the skating rink today. After all, how many parents laugh, hug and practically cry as they watch their child glide down the ice? But we knew how hard won this icy flight was for Ryan and we couldn’t help ourselves. It was a big deal and we knew it.

Finding activities that work – and knowing when to push your child and when to throw in the towel – is such an intricate dance with any child. Add Asperger’s Syndrome to the mix and it becomes a bit more complicated.

Ryan started skating lessons before his diagnosis and his initial reaction to lessons was one of the things that hinted that he may be on the spectrum. He hatde his uncertainty on the ice – and his fears scared the bejesus out of all the other little kids in the dressing room. Oh the cold hard stares we got those Saturday mornings.

Once we coaxed him onto the ice (talking about how he was Anakin Skywalker travelling across Hoth) he would lie down more than stand up and use his skate to repetitively take chunks out of the ice . We all felt horrible and at a loss. But we peservered, made some small gains, and then abandoned skating for a year.

Now we’re so much more prepared to meet Ryan’s needs. We know one-on-one instruction is definitely a must in his case. We also know that skating, bike riding and other activities are naturally going to take longer for Ryan because of the coordination/gross motor issues that often accompany AS.

And we prepare his instructors in advance. I recently met with the aquatics supervisor at the pool where he receives one-on-one instruction. My goal was to share a quick handout I created about Aspergers. He was surprisingly positive and open to the piece, so I’m reprinting it here, in case someone else finds it helpful.

Three Things You Need to Know about Asperger’s Syndrome

1. It’s neurological. That means Ryan’s brain is wired differently than ours and he experiences the world differently. The rules that most of us follow quite naturally don’t really make sense to him.

Listening. This is Ryan’s biggest challenge. The pool is a very overwhelming place for him. His brain is like a blackboard filled with sticky notes and they all look the same, so things that we block out (background noise, the shimmering water, the lights) all demand his attention at the same time.

  • What works: – Visual instructions. Showing rather than telling. Ryan’s very smart, but processing verbal instructions is difficult. Show him the list of what he needs to do to get his badge and check off the things he accomplishes.
  • What doesn’t: Don’t expect that saying Ryan’s name or calling to him will get his attention. I often touch his shoulder to ensure he connects with what I’m saying.

 2. Asperger’s makes the world a confusing place. Things that most of us learn, know and remember (like I’m safe in the water when my teacher is here or I can’t run on the pool deck) aren’t as easily accessed by kids with Asperger’s – that means we need to give them lots of reminders.

Staying on task. All Asperger’s kids resist change because it scares them. Ryan resists change, so learning new things can take a lot of time and patience.

  • What works: Make things a game. Ryan loves role playing The offer of doing something ‘fun’ after he tries a new thing works well too.
  • What doesn’t: Talking too much. Short instructions. Gentle encouragement. The promise of something fun after something hard, is much better than long negotiation.

 3. Ryan’s brain is an eccentric, but exciting place. He’s command of language and concepts is very advanced for his age. Don’t be surprised if he wants to talk forever about a computer game or if he uses very big words.

  • What works. I use Ryan’s love of language and information to keep him on task. Give him a word he doesn’t know or explain how something works and he’ll be listening with laser-like focus.
  • What doesn’t: If he would rather talk about computer games than do what you’re asking, use what he’s talking about to your advantage (i.e. It’s time for the Super Mario brothers to swim up to me…)

I have this in Word format. If you want a copy just let me know and I can send it your way.

I would love to know what sports/activities your kids like and why? And how do you prepare them and others?

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4 Comments

Filed under Education, Sports and extracurricular activities

4 responses to “Navigating the minefield of extracurricular activities

  1. What an excellent handout! And what an excellent Mama you are.
    I’m so glad to hear about the skating success!
    Glad you got to enjoy such a golden moment. Hugs xo

  2. Sonia

    Merci Anne-Marie!
    I always thought something like that would be so usefull to give to important people in our lives, but where to start? Another great idea, and I will use this to start Maryse’s own handout.

    Thank you for all your energy!
    Sonia

  3. Beautiful post – which I will be sharing!

    My across-the-board favorite extracurriculars for children-who-learn-differently are swimming and martial arts. The value of teaching ‘organized’ movement to a child is underestimated by many. Physical strength and ability contribute to cognitive and social-emotional development. Exercise under the monikers of ‘sports’ and ‘team’ can become a bit distorted not to mention exclusive but those activities hold promise in a program run by accepting adults.

    • Thanks for the comment Barbara. I agree with you completely. I’ve heard that about martial arts. We tried it without much luck, but I wonder if the key is small classes? I have found the one-on-one makes such a difference, but I would love to get the group element in there as well. Will have to do a little more research on local martial arts places. AM

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