Hooping advice for the non-neurotypical: Helping Kids with Autism, Dyspraxia, ADHD

This guest post is from Angela O’Keefe of Angeliis Hoops, a graduate of the Hooping with Kids Hoop Teacher Training Program.
Angela is working on her degree in Special Education and is a Hoop Dance Teacher in New Hampshire.

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List of Strategies for Children with Intellectual Disabilities and other Physical or Emotional Disabilities
One of the most common factors in my experience working with children with ASD and other types of disabilities is that they lack social skills and tend to be loners.
So activities that promote interaction with others help to gain social skills and encourage communication. That being said; it is not a bad idea to limit the amount of hoops so that children have to share and take turns.
Small groups are best suited for children with physical or intellectual disabilities as they may tend to get overwhelmed with excessive noise and commotion. It is good to inquire to the child’s parents if possible if he/she has any issues pertaining to loudness, as you will most likely be playing music in your class.
It is also best practice to model and use role playing activities so that children with ASD know what they are expected to do.
Language and communication skills are often related to some disabilities. With that in mind there are a variety of resources that can be used as visuals to direct instruction.
For example, we use a program called Board Maker that lets you print out words or icons of anything from directives to activities to the words that a child might need to see in order to understand. You can download a free trial and print off everything you need before it ends at http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software.
Reinforcement is almost always necessary, so be prepared to redirect when needed. If there are issues that may be a cause for concern it is not inappropriate to offer a trial class for the child to see if they will need additional support.
Use safety precautions, such as (unfortunately this is from personal experience); do not put yourself in a position where you or anyone else will get hurt. Biting is common in children with Autism. If you know a specific child can be physically aggressive and they are getting too close to another child, do yourself a favor and intervene promptly. The last thing that you want is to have to explain to a parent that their child was bit by another child in your hoop class.
Iron out the rules prior to beginning class. Explain what the children will be doing and go over what is not appropriate (i.e even though a hoop to a child is a toy, it is not appropriate to swing it dangerously around). As much as we like to look at children as little angels, sometimes we don’t realize that behavioral issues can be present in the most innocent looking individuals.
Whenever you are teaching new hoop moves to children it is especially effective if you break them down into small tasks and then reward them for successfully completing the task.
This is probably the most important tip I can give you. Be prepared. Do not go to your class without a lesson plan in mind. And even if you end up not following it to a tee, at least you will not be scrambling trying to come up with something for the children to do to make it to the end of class. It is best to use short timed activities and give children a heads up that you will be starting a new activity. Don’t be afraid to even use a visual timer, some children need to see the time lapse as transitions can be very difficult for them to handle.
A Word on Children with ADHD
Due to the issues of staying focused that children with ADHD face, hooping can be a great form of physical exercise for both their bodies and minds. The idea of increased blood flow to the brain helps children with ADHD’s executive functioning skills. All the strategies above are also very helpful when you have children with ADHD.
A final note: children can be extremely mean to one another, whether willing or not. As adults it is so important to model proper behavior so that children learn appropriate social skills. Keeping calm and being there to listen to our students, whether they are in a regular education classroom or at a fun hoop class; will always gain their respect.
I hope this list of strategies helps other hoop teachers.
The following are some tips from the Crisis Prevention Intervention Program:
CPI Info Capsule Ten Tips for Crisis Prevention
A crisis can be defined as a moment in time when an individual in your charge loses rational, and at times even physical, control over his or her own behavior. This can be very challenging and anxiety producing for those responsible for intervening. Due to the chaotic, unpredictable nature of a crisis, it is vital that staff stay calm and proceed with a plan.
These crisis moments do not sprout into being without roots; there are almost always warning signs that let you know an individual’s behavior is escalating. By following the tips listed here, you can often intervene before the crisis becomes dangerous.
1. Be empathic.
Try not to judge or discount the feelings of others. Whether or not you think their feelings are justified, those feelings are real to the other person. Pay attention to them.
2. Clarify messages.
Listen for the person’s real message. What are the feelings behind the facts? Ask reflective questions and use both silence and restatements.
3. Respect personal space.
Stand at least 1.5 to 3 feet from an acting-out person. Invading personal space tends to increase the individual’s anxiety and may lead to acting-out behavior.
4. Be aware of your body position.
Standing eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe with a person in your charge sends a challenging message. Standing one leg-length away and at an angle off to the side is less likely to escalate the individual.
5. Ignore challenging questions.
When a person in your charge challenges your authority or a facility policy, redirect the individual’s attention to the issue at hand. Answering challenging questions often results in a power struggle.
6. Permit verbal venting when possible.
Allow the individual to release as much energy as possible by venting verbally. If you cannot allow this, state directives and reasonable limits during lulls in the venting process.
7. Set and enforce reasonable limits.
If the person becomes belligerent, defensive, or disruptive, state limits and directives clearly and concisely. When setting limits, offer choices and consequences to the acting-out individual.
8. Keep your nonverbal cues nonthreatening.
The more an individual loses control, the less that individual listens to your actual words. More attention is paid to your nonverbal communication. Be aware of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice.
9. Avoid overreacting.
Remain calm, rational, and professional. Your response will directly affect the person’s behavior.
10. Use physical techniques only as a last resort.
Use the least restrictive method of intervention possible. Physical techniques should be used only when individuals are a danger to themselves or others. Physical interventions should be used only by competent/trained staff. Any physical intervention may be dangerous.
By following these tips, you will have the best possible chance of providing for the Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security of everyone involved in a potential crisis situation.
Visit Angeliishoops.com here. If you’re interested in becoming a children’s hoop teacher, check out The Hooping with Kids Online Course.

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2 thoughts on “Hooping advice for the non-neurotypical: Helping Kids with Autism, Dyspraxia, ADHD

  1. Thank you for writing this. I deal with these challenges a lot in my kids’ classes, and this article was really helpful. As someone with no training on the matter and zero “heads up” about any issues I may face with certain children (no thank you to my highly disorganized local public school systems!), I have had to rely on my instincts and my own childhood experiences with undiagnosed ADHD. I really value what you wrote hear to help us educate ourselves more formally so that all of our students can learn and have positive experiences with the hula hoop!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s a very important issue, which is exactly why I asked Angela to write it for me here. Glad you found it helpful 🙂

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