Have you ever wondered how much positive effect exercise will have on your special needs child?
How about, can they can improve their skills? OR advance their abilities?
Its generally known that movement and exercise is a positive thing. But very few know why it provides help for those with special needs and challenges.
In our experiences over the past 25years, we have seen marked improvements and amazing results with all ages of children and adults with challenges. With over 1000 participants in our AGP process we have seen direct and indirect lasting changes. The majority of our participants have diagnosis which include Autism, Downs, CP, GDD, Seizure disorders, ADHD and Prader Willi. Of course, there are many others and some with dual and triple diagnosis.
In this article, we will highlight 5 indirect changes that have made a big difference in family’s lives:1.1. Improved social development
In order to have social interaction there needs to be at least two mutual participants. In life, the second participant is not always a willing one. Particularly for special needs persons with barriers to communication and language it can be a big struggle. These barriers do not necessarily mean the person cannot understand the communication, but it does mean they may not be able to fully comprehend and process the interaction appropriately. With that, the reciprocity is poor, which leaves the social encounter lacking. Within our team of Special Needs Instructors, they are educated and practiced at both understanding the brains of these challenges (such as ASD’s) and able to coach the reciprocity skill through interaction. One of the deficits for many that we have cited in our AMD (Adapted Motor Development course) is the lack of ‘social context’. In the brain there are specific pathways for translation and interpretation of a social environment. These brain areas are compromised with those within the Autistic spectrum for instance. However, through the stimulation of motor skill instructing (as in the AGP) we have noted many instances where the ‘social context’ deficit is greatly improved!
2. Increased language and speech
There is good research and evidence that language can be suppressed through stressors, and enhanced through calming the nervous system of a child. Through our use of ‘tonation’ (varying pitch and words) and use of our ‘engaging fantasy’ process, we have been able to see vast improvements in speech expression in session. In fact, we have had some participants go from complete silence to expression of words over a years time in the AGP.3. Improved sleep patterns
Good sleeping is a complex result of body chemistry, hormones and the nervous system. Many parents have asked about sleeping and how it can be improved. Often the basic recommendation is devising routines and calming before bedtime. These are good, but they do not always solve it. As anyone, there is no one way to get a great sleep. One aspect for all humans is to get enough activity to both fatigue the body and calm the nervous system. With many special needs children and adults, the parasympathetic nervous system can be heightened which leads to overtiredness, stress and fatigue all at the same. As if your clock is out of sync. Two important things we know of to calm that system is; regulated motor skill work and environment enhancement (such as music aligned with calming and reduced sounds)4. Bowl regularity
Many of our kids and adults experience bowl irregularity. The reasons span from stressful environments to gastric health issues. The bowl function is supported by movement of smooth muscles surrounding the organ itself. As mentioned above with sleep challenges, the nervous system can be overly excited and negate the sensation for a “number two”. Such as the case if one were to control their urge to go, it can be accomplished to a certain extent in stressful or challenging situations. School is often a big stressor to proper bowl frequency, both from an avoidance of the bathroom itself to the lack of communication ability. Frequent suppression can cause later issues. Much like anyone, proper sustained exercise in a calm environment can improve bowl function and regularity over time.5. Decreased aggression frequency and intensity
Most aggression and high anxiety states stem from a heightened amygdala – a region in the brain where emotion is processed. This area known as the limbic system (which we have written about in several articles prior), is the processing centre for internal and external anger and fear. You do not need this author to tell you about these challenges. But what we have seen is a reduction in frequency and intensity of aggressive expression over time. The amygdala reacts favourably to the chemical changes that occur with exercise and being instructed in a calm and guiding manner. Also, the effect allows the child to feel safe, and the desire to return and look forward to the next session is heightened, which can also be a benefit at home for reinforcement of good behaviours.
Beyond the more obvious goals and reasons for exercise and motor skill development, these highlight some of the less obvious (or indirect) changes that can be made over time.
Our hope is that all families have the opportunity to partake in such a specifically tailored program and work with really great, supportive professionals to see the benefits.