When two autism classes were added to my schedule this year, I was grateful to make contact via Anne Green Gilbert with other dance educators who work with special needs & autistic children. Thusfar, this small support group of colleagues communicates somewhat erratically by email, but what a relief it is to hear from others! I really appreciate the support of their ideas and perspectives. Following is a glimpse into the world of Pat Parker, a dance educator in Burnaby, BC, Canada. She provides a developmental movement program for special needs students, many of whom are autistic. Today my own order of beach balls arrived, and I’m hoping my kids will be able to get them blown up next week. Whether they can or not, we’ll find ways to work…
Beach balls & basic skills for kids with special needs
by Pat Parker
Things have been going well with the developmental movement group. Beachballs have proven a great success. The kids love them and want them everyday. So now they are a great motivator. They are all progressing in their ability to blow them up and manage the fine motor task of putting the stopper in place. They have all improved in their ability to inhale and exhale deep breaths, and I see the calming effects of deep breathing when we need it! It also helps bring them together as a group and get focused on me when we breathe together – I call it “beachball bellies.” So the idea of using the beachballs to help develop the breath pattern seems to have worked.
After we blow up the balls, there are secondary benefits in the beach ball play, which develops eye focus and tracking. This is a big issue for most of the autistic kids in particular, since they have a hard time maintaining eye focus. The play is also interactive, with socializing the results of playing catch with their aids and with each other. …it teaches give and take – shared interaction – it’s hard work for the lower functioning children and joyful for those on a higher level – but all in a safe and non-competitive situation which is not always the case in a PE class.
It has taken about ten session with the beachballs to see this progress. My general plan is to work each day on a complete BrainDance including all the patterns and spend several weeks focusing on each pattern in some way. The beachballs were the strategy for focusing on breath.
I have a ball for each child – with their name on it — the same ball each time so I don’t have to keep sterilizing them. We have hand sanitizer for the aides to use after helping the kids with blowing. I also have a couple of balls blown up ready to use for any kids that can’t get their ball completely inflated. I want them to be able to play even if they can’t quite blow the ball up all the way. Most of my guys ( my group is all boys) can do it now.
At the end (after a one minute warning to smooth the transition), we sit together and squeeze the air out of the balls… feeling it blow on our faces, and say good bye.
Repetition, pattern, and routine are really important. So far so good but each day presents its challenges.