Many students look forward to gym class, and Asperger kids aren't always the exception. However, if physical education classes aren't handled properly, gym class can turn from a fun experience into a nightmare for many students who have Asperger syndrome.
The Issues of Gym Class and Asperger Syndrome
Puberty brings with it a multitude of issues, insecurities, and problems. Many children dread the first few weeks of physical education simply because they must change clothes in front of their peers. For those who are less than confident, this particular act can cause students much anxiety, embarrassment, and even fear. When you factor in a condition like Asperger, the problems can quickly escalate. There are many issues that can affect a child's performance if he or she has Asperger.
- Poor motor skills-Children with Asperger often have poor motor coordination, making it difficult for them to participate easily in some activities, like playing baseball or basketball. They often cannot move as quickly as other children and may have problems following rapid directions as well.
- Noise levels-Most children are accustomed to the noise levels of gym class, and Asperger kids sometimes adjust to the noise as well. However, other Asperger children struggle with the commotion and confusion that often go hand in hand with a noisy gymnasium. Autistic kids are often super-sensitive to sounds, so the noise of children yelling and coaches' whistles blowing can be almost too much to bear.
- Independence-While even preschool students may be able to dress themselves without assistance, kids with Asperger often struggle with dexterity, which can be embarrassing to them when surrounded by their peers.
- Pain tolerance levels-Some children with Asperger exhibit a high tolerance level for pain, which puts them at a higher risk for injury in contact sports and other physical activity.
- Socializaton-Kids with Asperger often have socialization problems as well. They may not exhibit proper behavior when in group situations. They may react in a rude manner both to other students and to their teachers.
Tips and Advice
What can educators and para-educators do to help these children fit in and actually enjoy physical education?
- First, special education teachers, core teachers, physical education teachers, administration, and parents should work closely together to create the best environment for these children.
- P.E. teachers should be aware that children with Asperger syndrome thrive on routine, and if a change in routine is expected, they need to talk with the children ahead of time if possible.
- "Buddies" could be assigned to each child. These buddies should be chosen based on their capability for compassion and willingness to help.
- Teachers should understand that these students may not comprehend verbal instructions, so visual cues in the form of flash cards, posters, etc. may be needed as well.
- Displaying a weekly schedule can also eliminate confusion. This list should be displayed prominently for all students to view.
- Demonstrating each activity before the class performs it can also be extremely helpful to children with Asperger.
- In some cases, an aide may be assigned to specific children. The aide can step in and remove a child who is overly stressed during a particular session.
- Quiet times can be built into a physical education period. This allows the teacher to regain control of the noise level, and it allows the students time to settle down. If there is an aide in the room, he or she can remove a child with Asperger who is having difficulty handling the noise level.
- Teachers should understand that these children may excel in some areas but have difficulty mastering other activities. When an activity is too difficult for a child, he or she could be given another option if possible.
Children with Asperger syndrome can participate, excel, and enjoy gym class if the class is handled properly. Teachers should do their best to set the child up to succeed…not to fail.