Jump Start Program Helps ASD Kids Play

2/18/14

The School of Kinesiology is teaming up with the Sunfield Center in Ann Arbor to provide a play-based adapted physical activity program called “Jump Start” for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“Jump Start” is designed to provide social and physical activity opportunities for young children ages 4-6 diagnosed with an ASD. With support from Sunfield Center, clinicians and University of Michigan School of Kinesiology students and group members will engage in activities that foster the development of gross motor skills.

The program was formulated in the summer of 2013 by doctoral student Leah Ketcheson (pictured, with Jump Start participants) and her mentor, Dr. Dale Ulrich, professor and director of the Center on Physical Activity and Health in Pediatric Disabilities at the School.

“My research focuses on helping to improve motor behavior, physical activity and community participation in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. It’s important to understand and recognize how a child's physical functioning and health influences many other areas of their life including their families,” said Ketcheson. “As part of that research, I spent eight weeks in the summer of 2013 with a group of 11 children with ASD introducing them to sport specific activities that focused on both object control (i.e. throwing, catching, kicking) and locomotion skills (i.e. running, jumping, leaping).”

It is well documented that many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have motor delays and challenges, even with tasks that are as basic as brushing teeth or throwing a ball. Ketcheson said, “Each child with ASD has different skills and abilities so with each lesson throughout the eight-week program, children learned a specific skill with instruction followed by them exploring the movement, and then concluding with a group activity. For a lower functioning child, a skill was broken down into a task analysis, where each component was first successfully learned individually and then combined to form the overall skill. For a more advanced student, the instructor provided a task card to the child, where steps to each activity were written out, and it became the goal of the child to experience the thrill of achieving the tasks independently.”

Ulrich said in addition to encouraging gross motor development, Ketcheson’s dissertation research also helped serve as an opportunity for the children to interact socially with each other. He noted, “The Sunfield Center recognized the importance of an intervention program grounded in physical activity and as such, also recognized the importance of bringing a program like this which is founded on research, into comprehensive treatment plans. We couldn't be more pleased to have a partnership with Sunfield and support families in Southeast Michigan. Our hope is that this program will gain traction and be adapted to help ASD families around the country and the world.”