Eric Chessen, a personal trainer, runs a Manhattan physical education program called Autism Fitness. His athletes (as he calls them), who range in age from six to 56, all have some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). More than half of them are non-verbal.
Working with those with autism requires Chessen to do a few things that are not typical of a personal training session.
- Watch for nonverbal cues. For Chessen's athletes, this includes things like pacing and loud humming, which are indicators that the person needs a break
- Be specific in praise. Instead of just telling the athlete, ‘good job,’ Chessen will point out the specific behavior the person has done well.
- Be patient. Many of those Chessen works with do not want to perform the desired task or behavior right away. At times, they do not even understand what is expected of them. Sometimes, especially during the person's first session, Chessen just sits and observes for a while.
- Give people options. When there are several tasks the person needs to complete, Chessen will often allow the person to pick which task they want to complete first, giving the person some control over the situation.
- See beyond the current task. For Chessen many of the things he does with his clients are to help them better perform everyday household tasks. For example, carrying a heavy sandbag across the room gets the person better prepared for lugging their own laundry around their home.
- Combine fun with work. Chessen allows his athletes to do activities they enjoy, such as bouncing the ball, along with the tasks he wants them to complete.
Of course, many of these strategies could benefit anyone, even if the person is not on the autism spectrum. If you would like to learn more about this and related topics, visit the Behavioral Health section of our blog.
And if you'd be interested in working with children and adults who have ASD, please contact us directly.
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