Our experience teaching students with autism and other disabilities from Papakura High School and Rosehill School.
Dance & Football
Autistic Tamariki and Rangatahi at Rosehill School
My experience this year working with Rosehill School students with autism and other disabilities has been abundantly rewarding. Starting in term two we began introducing dance movement and football skills to the students. It was an instant thrill for many of the students, having a creative and physical outlet available to them in the middle of their school day. Some of the students took a while longer to adapt to this new class on their timetable, and we faced some challenges to encourage each student to participate within their own ability. We have had great participation from the teachers who follow along just as the students do, and also step in for extra one on one guidance to those individuals that require more attention or help with movement placement in both dance and football. The need of the Rosehill School students is more hands-on than that of other schools we have worked with, hence the teachers involvement being one hundred percent.
Our class delivery program begins with an introduction and simple dance movement warm up that the students follow along with as we stand in an all inclusive circle. The circle layout is vitally important for each student to feel they are part of the group in no particular ranking or order, as would be felt from a traditional lined structure of a regular dance class. It is also important so that every student has a clear view of the teacher and can follow along with the movement, not worrying which side they step to first. We aim for three to four tracks to begin our session, usually with a track that we repeat each week as something of a set choreography for them to practice and develop memory of movement and improved coordination.
We then move into some basic ball skills in small groups to work on passing and stopping with the inside of the feet, playing a game of ‘hot potato’ passing and catching the ball quickly with hands, which translates into goalie practice by being able to grab the ball with hands when in that position. We have introduced ‘headers’ where the teachers now lob the ball towards the students head, where they connect with it and bump it off. We began this process with the students lobbing it to their own heads and then connecting, so they wouldn’t feel intimidated with a ball flying towards them from a height. Once they mastered this and realised a ball bopping into your forehead was not so sore after all, we began the bigger challenge of achieving the timing of a ball thrown by someone else, and the coordination developed rapidly. We also do ‘knee kicks’ with the top of the thigh and have introduced thrown in technique. The students line up along the sideline where throw ins happen if the ball goes out and I pass the ball to each of them instructing to hold in both hands and touch the ball to the back of their head before throwing with all their might. A hard task with throw in technique with any beginner is for them to keep their feet connected to the ground. This is something a few of the students have been able to achieve, where with others we are simply happy they are throwing the ball at all.
The last section of class is the game, and a huge highlight for many students. The group splits into two teams and I choose our team captains. Team captain is a bit of a responsibility so with Rosehill School I have elected permanent team captains for each side every week. These students are leaders in their own right and have gained a sense of pride from being given the title and the responsibility. Team captains gather with their teams to create a team name, which changes each week. The team name is another important factor to give that sense of ownership and belonging to the side they are playing for. Its also great during the game for myself or other players to yell encouragements to their side like “Go fireballs you got this!” or “ Nice work shark kickers!”. Once the winner of rock paper scissors is decided, we kick off and the game begins. Teachers are spread out evenly between the two teams and the student teacher ratio is generally 1:1 which makes for an upbeat and exciting game. The teachers participation is really inspiring to the students, who look to them for guidance and encouragement through their school experience, so to see them getting fully involved in the sports lesson we provide gives a it great continuity. Some children are reluctant to get involved, or it takes them longer to process what is happening in the present, so the pace of the game is played much slower. I always find opportunities for the less active students to participate in some way. If they tend to linger on the sideline and do their own exploration, I will get them to do our throw ins or goal kicks from where they are standing. This gives them a sense of inclusion even without running the whole game layout. Every time a child kicks a ball is a win, especially when it is visible that they are so thrilled with the sensation and satisfaction of ball to boot and watching it roll (or fly!) The turf field we play on is small, and the ball often gets kicked out, but this gives us the opportunity for throw ins and goal kicks, allowing involvement from the less active students who don’t feel comfortable with the intensity of the game environment. The goals scored are not usually recorded so the winning team at the end is never really known, nor cared about. The competitiveness happens throughout the game without the vindictive score to highlight a particularly stronger side. We do not often have a strong or a weak team because we have dispersed skill level evenly across both teams of teachers and students. The game duration is around 20-25minutes depending on the energy levels of the students and how they are responding to class on any given day. At the end of the game each team huddle up into their groups and do the three cheers for the other team, once again using the team names. Then we line up and high five each other saying “Good game" before winding up the session.
Having dance and football collaborating together has been a great fusion. The footwork required for football is very agile, quick and at times powerful. Dance and fast step movement to warm them up for this translates well into the football game that we play in the third section of class. Dance at the beginning of class is more than just for a warm up. It lifts the students spirits and gets them smiling and grooving in a safe space of creative movement exploration. They can interpret the movement however they like, even if it’s not the movement I am demonstrating, the music will guide them to move how they feel they want to. There is so much freedom in dance and it allows every person to move without being told its right or wrong.
The developments I have seen in students over the past two and a half terms is phenomenal. When we first began there were some students who were unfamiliar with passing and catching the ball, and also unsure of how to kick. With the teachers assistance physically demonstrating the movements by assisting students bodies either hands or feet, to connect with the ball and put the energy behind it to make it move. This mind to muscle connection developed the more we practiced and now in term four each and every student can now pass, catch and kick the ball without physical assistance. The skill has been developed in their own bodies and they are now familiar with how it is done so they can do it independently. This to me is a massive achievement and though a simple task of passing catching and kicking a ball is something most children learn as toddlers, these children have mastered it with some extra guidance and a practical environment for execution. When the mind and body work together it stimulates learning and promotes progress in other non-sport related areas.
Our presence has been enjoyed so much by the teachers and students that our originally temporary appointment has now become ongoing, and plans to continue into next year as well. I look forward to the next intake of students, as well as the familiar faces of this year, to continue working together and improving fitness, coordination and brain stimulation through our dance and football in schools program.