Delayed adolescents find their champion
The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle Campus
Increased self confidence, lower depressive symptoms and improved physical fitness are the results of a free training program to assist adolescents suffering the debilitating effects of Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), facilitated by the Institute of Health and Rehabilitation Studies, at The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA).
The Adolescent Movement Program, AMP it up, is a twice-weekly, 90 minute exercise program, and is the only ‘adolescent focussed’ initiative of its kind in Western Australia. It is helping to assist youth to engage in physical activity by improving their basic motor skills and components of physical fitness, such as cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility and balance.
Institute for Health and Rehabilitation Research Director, Professor Beth Hands, said adolescents with special needs and their parents were drawn to the program as it provided free therapy in a supportive, positive and socially acceptable setting.
“The criteria to come in to the program is that participants must have poor coordination, so we’re looking at adolescents who are unable to participate in the simple everyday activities of daily living,” Professor Hands said.
“We have participants not only affected by DCD but other conditions which affect movement, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and Down syndrome.”
Professor Hands said adolescents in these groups were unable to participate in most sports and recreational activities enjoyed by their peers. She said this exclusion impacted on their physical and emotional wellbeing and resulted in lower physical self-concept and social self-perception, occurring as a result of the very public nature of their disability.
“When young, these youth were excluded from many playground games as they couldn’t run fast or catch a ball, so nobody wanted them on their team. On school sports days, everybody can see their inadequacy when they come last in every race,” she said.
“Consequently, they withdraw from physical activity opportunities with the related health costs of low fitness and associated lifestyle related diseases.”
Professor Hands said a major concern facing adolescents with DCD is that they were often not identified as having the condition.
“Teachers, parents and coaches often think they’re simply being lazy or just not the sporty type. They just look poorly coordinated or clumsy but they suffer many physical, social and emotional consequences,” she said.
“DCD needs to be recognised as a learning disability in the same way as other specific learning disabilities. Many people don’t realise poor coordination is a diagnosable condition but it doesn’t attract any disability allowance or medical rebate for remedial services.”
Professor Hands said adolescents participating in AMP it up engaged in two 90 minute exercise sessions per week, working with UNDA Exercise and Sport Science, Physiotherapy, and Health and Physical Education students, on a cardio exercise, strength and resistance program.
“This setting and the adaptable equipment suits their social and physical needs. The ultimate aim is to provide these adolescents with the skills, fitness and confidence to regularly exercise in their local exercise facility when they become adults,” she said.
Professor Hands said many parents of AMP it up participants felt overwhelming relief to find the program for their children. For many, this was the first time their child had enjoyed participating in exercise.
Lisa McBride, Mum of Callan, who was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder at age three, said the program had been a God-send for her and her son who suffered anxiety when faced with having to compete with his peers due to his loving, non-competitive nature.
“Callan is now happily participating in his second term of AMP it up and we are amazed at the results. Our family and friends are all commenting on Callan’s improved posture and we are very pleased that his enthusiasm for physical activity in general has greatly increased,” Ms McBride said.
“We no longer have to negotiate a deal on taking the dog for a walk! Callan has also had a noticeable weight loss and we often catch him admiring his new physique in the bathroom mirror.”
Ms McBride said she was grateful for the AMP it up program, Professor Hand’s unwavering positivity and Notre Dame’s Exercise Science students who volunteered their time to make a difference in her son’s life.
“This is the miracle I have prayed for. I often wonder if they realise how they have truly turned our lives around,” she said.
“The simple fact that Callan is always looking forward to his sessions at AMP it up is a small miracle in itself, let alone the amazing transformation in Callan’s physical wellbeing.”
Andrea Barnard (+61) 8 9433 0610, Mob (+61) 0408 959 138
Barnard, Andrea, "Delayed adolescents find their champion" (2010). Media Release Archive. 146.