Mahayla’s First Week

As mentioned earlier, in the beginning of February, 5 new participants started FITBuddies. The last two weeks has been a whirlwind at FITBuddies and therefore has left little time for blogging but it’s time for an update!

We have a new group of 4 boys, ages 8-11 on the autism spectrum, but the first update will be on Mahayla.

A Little Background…
Mahalya is a fun and vibrant 19 year old female. She is a very complex individual but as I told her mom, in some ways or another, aren’t we all? But for the average 19 year old female, her complexities are much more in-depth. It is not about what clothes look the best, but about whether she will ever initiate getting dressed, putting on closed-toe shoes or wearing pants instead of a skirt. It is not about whether she will walk into a room and impress, but about whether people will stare are her with uncertainty. Will people be able to look beyond the tourrettes, autism, epilepsy and OCD and see a unique individual that is the same as all of us in that she is simply looking for acceptance?

Our Goals…
First of all, our goal is that Mahayla will feel comfortable at FIT, with myself and the other trainers and clients around her and want to keep coming back. I have started out with 1/1 half hour sessions to that we can ease her into the gym and give both of us time to get to know each other. Mahayla initiates very little verbal communication and as in the case for most individuals with autism, I am working on promoting instruction in a more visual environment rather than verbal. Currently the only demands placed on Mahayla are in order to protect her safety in the gym, otherwise right now we are following what is called “pairing.”

I have worked with many individuals with autism and the first few weeks is the most important. It is essential to build a rapport with each individual before you place an instruction or commands on them. Many refer to this phase as “pairing” with the idea being that you follow a course of steps (which I tweak depending on the individual I am working with):

1) Observe and follow the Individual: as long as they are safe, take as long as you need to get to know them, watch their movements, see what their interested in and so on

2) Begin matching their movements/activities: begin an activity/game that you know the individual may be interested in (for example, in Mahayla’s case, tossing a ball). Begin independently with the hopes that the Individual with be interested in joining. You may allow the Individual to have their own ball (or whatever equipment is decided upon). At this time, you are simply looking to match their activities not necessarily engage

3) Time to Engage: We are still limiting the amount of verbal communication needed but focusing on engaging in non-verbal communication (eye contact, high fives, etc). The Individual will no longer be allowed to have their own object but if they are interested, will engage with you to participate in an activity
*if they are not ready to participate with you, instead have them ‘mirror’ you (ie. follow the leader, repeat after me. Allow them to be the leader as well).

4) Begin to create a schedule. This will be done with activities that you know the Individual may be interested in as well as those that you would like to start implementing. In beginning a schedule, the Individual is in charge. While you can make a list of options, they choose the order and essentially create their own schedule.

And that is the basic start. These are basic guidelines I have used with many of the Individuals on the spectrum that I have worked with. It has to be adjusted to meet every Individuals needs but it provides a basic start. In Mahayla’s case she spent the first day walking around and there was not any major interaction between the two of us. I was expecting this to last for a few more sessions but on the second day she was still easily distracted but engaged several times in activities I initiated. She initiated and held eye contact and even looked for high fives and hugs. Because of Mahayla’s moods, we may take a few steps forward and then the next session a few steps back but most importantly she is enthusiastic about being at FIT which is huge!

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