Every Autism Awareness Month, I’m reminded of a poem by Scott Lentine, an individual with autism. He wrote, “Wanting to be free. Wanting to be me. Trying to make people see. And accept the real me.”
As an adapted physical education teacher, I call on you — my fellow colleagues — to ask yourselves what you can do to foster not just awareness in your school community, but acceptance of students who have autism… or any other disability.
With 1 in 68 people predicted to have autism, I believe this paradigm shift has to happen to really see a difference — in order to help our students, colleagues and communities be open to differences, be more inclusive, and reassure individuals with disabilities that they can lead quality lives.
Physical Education and Students with Autism
In one of my elementary schools, we implemented a peer-partner program where students with autism were paired with general education students during physical education class. After some time, it was evident that this program — complete with peer modeling, guided instruction, multiple practice opportunities, and consistent positive reinforcement — benefitted all students, no matter their level of ability.
Students showed an understanding of personal and social responsibility which resulted in a highly inclusive, accepting environment. At the end of every reporting period successes were celebrated at the school assembly.
Each student with autism was responsible for giving their peer the awards, a hand shake and high five. This seemingly small act of kindness and recognition provided them with a sense of accomplishment and social acceptance — a feeling often overlooked or taken for granted by many.
And just like with general PE students, physical activity can foster significant, positive outcomes for students with autism. It can decrease inappropriate and repetitive behaviors, increase focus and attention, and improve self-worth and confidence!
Other Strategies to Try
Implement strategies that encourage inclusion, promote acceptance, and foster a positive, physically active learning environment for all.
Think outside of the box.
Physical education is the perfect platform to teach essential life skills that can be generalized within a real-world setting and across the curriculum.
Acknowledge and celebrate mini-victories such as students taking turns, consideration of personal space, respecting boundaries, understanding cause and effect, and participating in cooperative play.
Know your students.
Are you aware of their specific needs and strengths and how to best manage their behavior? Think about good reinforcements, their preferred activities, and triggers for impeding behaviors.
Create a visually rich environment.
Utilize picture schedules, video modeling, task cards, token boards, and behavior charts.
Motivate and advocate!
Establish an inclusive learning environment through creative initiatives, technology and event planning.
- Encourage social interaction and increased physical activity between peers through this ExerciseBuddy app.
- Create a climate of acceptance and inclusion. SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong Case Study is a great example.
- Plan and implement assemblies and awareness walks within your school. These school events are autism-specific but you can customize them for your school’s specific needs.
- Participate in local events provided by the Autism Society specifically designed to increase acceptance.
Teaching students of varying levels of abilities can be challenging, but no matter the complexity or presence of impeding obstacles, the most important thing to remember when teaching students with autism, or students with any disability, is that while they may be different, they are not less.
I can do better when you think that I can
Remember to show me and show me again
I know that you love me so love me through this
I do my best and don’t need to be fixed.
— Jackie Bielinski