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Mainstream & ASD....... Our Journey. Stage 8: Extra-Curricular Activities.

Posted Mar 31 2009 12:00am
Well, we've just had a breakdown and had to stop for another while! Computer Wireless connection issues. Tired "Driver" maybe??!! Driving me crazy (pardon the pun!)....couldn't do ANYTHING. All sorted for now though so we'll get motoring again.

So, we're finally into the last section of Our Journey. Well, Our Journey so far that is. We've still got more travelling ahead of us.

But now we're on to my favourite section....Extra-Curricular Activities.

I've really being looking forward to this post. I mean, it's just gotta be the ultimate in integration with your mainstream peers, hasn't it? Your child has not only successfully (for the most part) integrated in the classroom but is now doing "normal" (if I dare use that word) after school activities. There's a real sense of having arrived!! And it feels good, I have to tell you!

However like everything else on the Journey so far, a lot of thought and effort goes into this section too. If we're very, very clever and make very careful and clever choices we can make these Extra-Curricular Activities work in our child's best interests. We can use these activities to supplement whatever Occupational Therapy or Social Skills work our child is receiving. Similar to how we use walking from school ( Stage 2) to supplement O.T. inputs or even a trip to the local playground where you can get free O.T..... with Sand play, climbing frames, Monkey Bars, Swings etc, etc! I like to say that Snuggles' activities are chosen specifically for the Therapeutic Benefits they offer! It's true, actually.

I think the most obvious start is avoiding Team sports/activities. To begin with anyway. The team element and all the rules can really upset our special kids. Well, it did really upset Snuggles. This I learnt the hard way......believe me! So we started with individual sports, like Horse riding and Swimming. I did make a false start with a kids Stage School though, that didn't really work out. But, never mind...we all learn from our mistakes!!

I think the key to success here is getting as much one to one tuition as you can, to start off with anyway. Accepting that they don't have to start these activities at the same time as their peers helps too. What's a year or two? Same applies to Mainstream school when you think about it. You can also start (or move on to) an activity that's done in small groups. Most Teachers/Instructors use older children to help out with the smaller ones and we can use that to our advantage.

Here's the successful Activities we did and why......

Horse Riding.....

We started this in the Special School where it was provided as part of O.T. at a time when there was very limited (if any) O.T. available . It was very thoughtfully provided by the wonderful Fund Raising Committee and was extremely helpful to our children's development.

The lessons took place in the wonderful Festina Lente foundation where they really nourished our special kids. They have strong affiliations with Special needs, providing employment to many young adults with Special Needs. Each lesson had about 3 or 4 children and one Trainer, but each child had their own leader which really helped.

Horse Riding was difficult for some on the spectrum. Difficulties rose from anxieties around simply getting on the horse to the sensory issues involved in getting some kids to bear even putting the riding helmet on. They just couldn't tolerate it but couldn't take part, for safety reasons, if they didn't wear it.

For most kids however, it was a wonderful calming experience for that half hour once a matter how fraught the rest of the fortnight might have been! Some of them got very attached to "their" pony as they obsessed about getting the same one each week! They were very gently weaned off that one! They obviously get a sensory input from this, especially with the fall and rise as they walk....then trot .....and, eventually canter along on their ponies.

Snuggles loved horse riding and he was getting quite good at it. We didn't continue it after we left the school though. At this stage he has enough activities and the fact he has only one fully functioning kidney worried me a bit. Even though we had the OK from his Consultant. That said, if we were to continue I reckon he could have moved to a small group lesson in a mainstream stable.


Again, we started swimming in Special School where they went swimming once a week. Some Teachers/SNA's and parents (including yours truly!) got into the pool with the children. Then they got an excellent Instructor who also insisted on being in the pool with the kids! I strongly recommend that the Instructor be in the pool with them. Much better learning experience.

We did try a "normal" swimming lesson when he was four, just before he started Special School. It wasn't successful so I steered away from them. The wonderful and very inclusive Newpark School run a Special Needs swimming camp with one to one instruction during school holidays. You attend for about 1 hour every day for a week (mon - Fri). I found that really good. There was a mix of Special needs children including ANYwhere on the Autistic spectrum (classic Autism to Aspergers and beyond!) and Downs Syndrome. Every level of ability was catered for. Not sure if it's still running....they may call it an Intensive Swimming Camp now, but it's worth checking out.

When we were no longer able to avail of the weekly school swimming lesson I somehow managed to get the Instructor to take him for a Private class once a week! This went on for two years and was graduated to include a pal in the swimming lesson, in gentle preparation for future swimming classes/clubs. She is a wonderful Instructor who is mindful of ASD behaviours but absolutely took no nonsense from him! He is now quite an accomplished swimmer, thanks to her.

As a result of all the above he started weekly swimming classes, with his mainstream buddies, last September. It is a huge success. He was actually put in the top group with 5th and 6th class kids which is quite an achievement. And a total testament to his previous Instructors patience and teaching skills. It's very well organised and the pool and surrounding deck area is quite spacious. That's important as I've seen classes in other pools and they're MAD! Too noisy and crowded......MAJOR sensory integration issues! Very difficult for the ASD child to cope, and learn in those circumstances. Even as things stand, Snuggles finds it difficult to listen to and focus on the Instructor....who is not in the pool with them. Being in the water, with all the sensory sensations that entails, and having Auditory Processing Disorder is not a good combination! Neither is his determination to beat the fastest kid in the pool. Especially when he's one of the youngest in his group. As he's in the deep end I worry that he'll get cramp in the middle of the pool. I'm going to speak to the (very understanding) Instructor next lesson!

Speaking of sensory issues...there's quite a mix here for Snuggles! Swimming in itself is GOOD sensory input . Good O.T. input too of course! And, it makes them good and tired ...... and nice and calm? Yes??! Eh ..... not that simple I'm afraid. Well, not for us anyway! I noticed that he'd get quite hyper immediately after the lesson. He'd squeal and be very giddy etc (more so than others his age) in the shower and was very hard to contain when dressing him. I discovered that holding him close and pressing his back helped. I discussed this with our Occupational Therapist and it's back to the old chestnut..... ANY movement activity creates this "hyper" behaviour that's also evident when he does P.E. and out-of-schedule movement activities in class.

Of course, we can also use swimming as a kind of Social Skills exercise! Multi-tasking as ever! I love the fact that a lot of swimming pools have changing villages but what do you do when you're in a hotel...and your child is 9...and unable to organise himself to shower/get dressed etc by himself?? I HAVE to stop bringing him into the ladies changing room. Seriously! All his talk of boobies and willies (his version of stimming I reckon) wasn't appreciated when he was 6...or 7...or 8! Definitely won't be appreciated now! So, with that in mind I've been bringing him to the same pool that he learns in, for a "just for fun" swim and working on these skills. He's calmer in the shower now but likes to stay a loooong time! He's definitely getting GOOD sensory input from that now. While he does that and starts dressing himself I take a quick trip to the steam room..... so he HAS to dress himself. While I'm getting dressed I give him the money to go queue, ask and pay for his Hot chocolate drink. He then sits at the table and waits for me! Hows that for a social skills lesson! Have to keep thinking ahead.

Phew....and most people think that a swimming lesson just involves your child getting into the pool and learning!! Huh. If only...........

Tae Kwon Do

Aims of Tae Kwon Do:

  1. Modesty

  2. Courtesy

  3. Integrity

  4. Self Control

  5. Indomitable Spirit

Admirable aims indeed.

Ah ..... we just love Tae Kwon Do! It's something he enjoys and is quite good at, even if it poses some difficulties.

This is a prime example of how starting late and choosing a small group etc can work. Snuggles started this activity 2 years ago, aged 7. A year or 2 behind most kids. However, Tae Kwon Do is a sport that people start at different ages (some adults in his class) so if you start late you don't stand out too much. Whilst it's not a particularly small group the Instructor uses some senior students to assist in the class.

Tae Kwon Do is a bit of a conundrum for the ASD child, or so I believe. The reasons it's good for them are also the reasons it's difficult for them!

Snuggles' gross Motor Skills issues, although minor, are obvious in this class. Very low upper body muscle tone which holds him back when doing the exercise section....push ups etc. He also has issues with balance so Round House, Axe and Hook kicks , for example, are difficult for him to execute properly. Whilst attending class and doing these tasks over and over is definitely an O.T. session for him, he also has to perform these tasks properly in order to successfully test for each Belt, as he progresses through the Grades. It's his choice to to the Tests.

He also has to learn Theory for tests... Tae Kwon Do Aims, Principles and meaning of each pattern, for example. You have to learn a pattern, which consists of at least 19 moves, for each coloured belt. So, language skills required here. Just try saying Indomitable Spirit if you have an Expressive Language Disorder!!

Auditory Processing difficulties will also hold the ASD child back as they struggle to process the instructions given to them in a Testing situation. Again, constant repetition in attending classes helps to hone these skills and yet they can adversely affect them when Testing.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed how untidily dressed most kids on the Spectrum seem to be??! This also includes ADHD kids! You know, the way their clothes just hang off them, trousers twisted, hoods-up-goes-nicely-with-the-off-the-shoulder-look sort of thing! The gas thing is..... they don't even seem to notice! Or care! Doesn't go down well when Testing though..... with his uniform sticking out over the belt and trousers twisted! Definitely not a good look!

Within 10 mins of this being taken his top was half open

and he STEPPED out of his Belt!! In the middle of his last testing!!

This is where your decision to tell...or not to tell comes in! Do you tell the Instructor your child has ASD or not?? Tough choice and I can understand why you wouldn't. Personally though, I always tell. I just think it can take some of the stress away... when they know they can make allowances. Use their "helpers" in the class to keep your child "on task" when necessary, or tell them "what's happening next" for example. Coming from the Instructors perspective, I believe they have a right to know. I mean you'd tell them if your child had Epilepsy or Asthma etc, indeed you'd have to as you complete their necessary forms. Like ASD, these conditions (whilst medically more serious) don't always manifest themselves but you have to let them know just in case. Besides, if you tell the Tae Kwon Do instructor he/she will asterisk your childs name on the Testing list, so the Master knows there's "something" to take into account when testing and will make allowance for all the above problems I've mentioned. Well, that's how I deal with it but it's a personal choice. No right or wrong way here!

One aspect of Tae Kwon Do I'm not so sure about is Sparring. This is something he's really getting into as he's now a Green Belt. It's basically boxing from what I can see... but very controlled. But.. I just don't know. Common sense tells me that sparring and a child with Behavioural issues around anger management don't quite mix so well! However, he is a year or 2 older (I knew that was a good idea!) and it's not as much of an issue these days. I think I'll just go with the flow and monitor the situation. For the moment. As it's controlled it might actually help him cope with playtime confrontations. See what I mean about being a conundrum?!!

Drama/Drama Therapy

Drama Therapy is used by Aspire. (Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland) to teach social Skills through the medium of drama. It's a wonderful idea and helps the child/adult navigate their way through various difficult social situations as taught them through role playing, for example. That's how I understand it as I've not attended their classes. Worth giving them a call.

A very inspired local(ish!) parent set up a similar type group this side of the city trying to emulate this very innovative teaching method. We attended for about 18 months and found it very helpful. The parent had teaching experience and I likened the class to a Resource Social Skills session. That's my opinion only. There was circle time where we worked on their listening skills (no easy task I can tell you!) and getting them to direct their "news" to each other. As opposed to directing all they had to say to the adults in the room! We played games working on their eye contact....Wink Murder for example. Oh, and lots of other cool things too!

It was really good and Snuggles really enjoyed attending. Classes have been temporarily suspended though. The problem we had was the classes were on the same day as Tae Kwon Do. Mad Wednesday as I called it! Very, very tiring day. I'd collect him from school at 2.30 and the poor child didn't get home 'til 6.45pm. It was agreed that we didn't do homework that day. The Teachers understood that these weren't just after school activities... they were supplementing his (limited) O.T. and Social Skills inputs. Again, I know for a fact that a lot of schools wouldn't be that understanding.

So now I'm considering Drama classes. Having spoken to a drama teacher friend of mine I think this would be a good idea. Again, he's more able to be attentive in such a class now than he would have been a year or 2 ago. I didn't realise that Drama classes incorporated as much speech work as it does. I mean, I knew they'd do vocal warm ups etc but there's a lot more that could help our ASD kids. I think we'll start in September. So that's SLT and social skills covered then!!

Oh, and did I mention her daughter is in her last year training to be a ....Speech and Language Therapist??!! I've pointed out our excellent track record at being guinea pigs for other Therapists papers and Thesis'. And that we're perfectly willing to do so again if called upon!! Watch this space! Like I said before I will quite shamefully avail of ANYTHING that comes our way! No choice really .... it might very well be all we can get.


To be honest this is something he does just because his best friend does it! He started this year and it seems to be going well. Initially it would seem that this would be good O.T. for him but I remember asking the Occupational Therapist if this would be an activity she would recommend for him. This was some time ago. She didn't think it was a good idea. I think it was to do with proprioceptive issues. The way the brain perceives the movement of the body.... when they're doing cartwheels or forward rolls etc. God, I hope I got that right!! It was something like that anyway! He's happy doing it, it's only 45 mins duration and there are no problems. It's the only activity (apart from panto) that he does with his best friend so I'm happy for him to continue.


Yep. That's right, I said........ Football!!

Now, come on, you've truly, seriously "arrived" if your ASD child is playing football!! I don't mean to be boastful ....... well, not really anyway. Hell, I just can't help it!!

So, how on earth did we get from dragging him in kicking and screaming anytime there was anything resembling a football game going on to where we are now? Don't underestimate this. It's a very difficult thing for them to cope with. The rules for a start, God the complicated rules! He'd get so upset when they wouldn't give him the ball ...... as he'd see it.

As he progressed with his Inclusion Programme I could see the writing on the wall as regards the games of choice in the yard at break times. As they were getting older, the boys wanted to play football and they wanted Football or Bowling Birthday parties. Snuggles wants to play with his friends but couldn't cope with Football or Basket ball or any competitive game for that matter.

So, what to do? I simply waited. Until the right time. Or what I thought was the right time. I'd spoken to the guy who runs the local football club and he was willing to work with us on this. He spoke to the coach and it was agreed he'd just do the training. NO MATCHES. That was hard for Mr Jazzy to accept.... you can't train and NOT do the match. Oh YES YOU CAN! If you want successful integration that is. I'd had the initial chat in June but it was the following March (last year) when we started. I was busy with Panto and stuff so we were delayed in getting started. Worked out for the best though.

It was difficult at first but with gentle coaching and only going when he wants to (although we encourage him to go we don't force him) he now copes very well. He even plays matches sometimes! Well, they put him on for 10 minutes! It's been great for his confidence. He plays football well with his friends in the yard now and can cope with football birthday parties. That's the real reason I wanted him to join a football club....not the matches! Have to say the two coaches he has at present are lovely guys. They are firm but gentle and VERY encouraging when they're playing a match. Always quick with the words of encouragement....even when they're being thrashed 8:1!! I've heard other coaches (visiting teams) screaming abuse at their team...telling them to "shut up" etc. If he EVER gets a coach like that we are SO outa there!

That's the other thing about Extra Curricular activities that I have just this minute realised ..... the Coaches/Instructors. ALL of them are so inclusive, encouaraging and open to work with us on this. It may, or may not, surprise you to learn that not all Instructors (or school Teachers for that matter) are so helpful. I will return to this issue in my final wrap up.

So, can we be successful in integrating our ASD kids into mainstream Extra Curricular activities?? With careful planning and choices I would have to say........

Is Feidir Linn....


Extra Curricular Activities can do SO much more than it says on the tin ....... if we're very clever about it!!

That's it for now. This is such a long post I'll do a wrap up next.... have a lot to say then too!

Take care xx J

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