Researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) have developed a unique autism intervention which focuses on the child’s surroundings rather than just the child: Their new sports program trains coaches how to achieve the best results for students with autism.
The school-based multi-sports program, called Supporting Success, is designed to help children with autism develop important life skills through participating in regular organized sports. UniSA researcher Emma Milanese said Supporting Success is unique in that it provides important first-line interventions and training for coaches as a way to help kids with autism.
“Coaches play a paramount role in providing the ‘right’ environment for students with autism to enjoy and participate in sport, yet the challenge is that they often feel unprepared to work in special settings,” she said.
“Our research shows that there are specific tactics that coaches can use to encourage students with autism to more effectively participate in sports and physical activities. These include using visual cards to communicate; demonstrating activities before students have a go; using distinct coaching aids to familiarize students with sports equipment; and various approaches for overcoming individual sensory challenges.”
“We’re very pleased to hear that both parents and teachers are reporting great improvements in physical and interpersonal skills, concentration, and general calmness, as well as increased interests in new experiences, new friendships, and a general feeling of being more connected with the environment and community,” says Milanese.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental condition that can affect how a person communicates and interacts with the world around them.
Co-researcher Dr. Richard McGrath of UniSA said the findings show how important it is to consider the world from the perspective of a child with ASD.
“Many kids on the spectrum struggle to process auditory commands which can make verbal instructions tricky, but add a visual cue card as a prompt, or actively show them what they need to do, and it’s a completely different story,” McGrath said.
“Similarly, we’ve found it effective to use plain words to describe activities. Instead of sports-specific lingo, like ‘Throw the cricket ball at the stumps’, we’re suggesting coaches use literal words, like ‘Throw the ball at the three sticks.’ This was far more effective for kids with autism, especially when they were just learning about the sport.”
Developed in partnership with Modbury Special School and the not-for-profit organization SportsUnited, the Supporting Success program was initially developed for adolescents to help them build self-confidence and belief in their own abilities through sports.
Now in its fourth year, the program has been extended to junior primary school children to help improve their gross motor skills, communication and socialization skills.
Supporting Success partner Ginny Pyatt from the Modbury Special School said the coaching interventions offer valuable strategies for encouraging children with ASD to participate in sports.
“Sport and exercise are extremely important for children on the autism spectrum,” Pyatt said. “We’ve seen Supporting Success deliver incredible improvements in students’ physical competencies and sporting skills, but also in their confidence, social capabilities and well-being.
The findings are published in Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sports Educators.
Source: University of South Australia