Autism Skis

 In Autism Speaks

Overview/History

Over the last six winter seasons, Folbe has averaged 20 ski lessons per season, and I have had the privilege of being her instructor for all of them! Folbe is a 10 year-old girl who started skiing with Ascendigo when she was only four. This length of time together equates to a tremendous amount of teaching opportunities. The consistency and repetition has been key for her long-term success.
Folbe has an incredible memory. She is very intelligent and excels with navigation tools, such as trail maps. She has excellent receptive language skills, although sometimes it’s hard for her to focus. In the beginning, her expressive language was rarely spontaneous—in fact most of her language was in the form of a script that she memorized from somewhere else—most often cartoons (scripting). However, her database of scripts is massive. She would even use her scripts to effectively communicate her needs or wants. As an example, if she wanted to take a break in the trees (one of our favorite break spots) , she would quote a line from Bambi that goes like, “The prince of the forest….”. When she says that, I know she is thinking about taking a break at our favorite spot. We have been using this same area for five seasons now. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and away from any crowds. We play in the snow, make snow angels, and watch other skiers (priming). It’s very sensory friendly.

In the beginning

When Folbe first started skiing with Ascendigo she was a “never-ever.” She was so shy, nervous, and timid. As her ski instructor, I brought out adaptive equipment known as “hook-ease” right away. This puts me in control of speed, tactics, and turn shape. With this equipment, I could initiate not only rotational movement, but also tipping engagement. While doing this, the instructor can also physically prompt “fore-aft” pressure by moving the skier’s body forward and backward. The beauty of the instructor taking control early is that we were able to get right into having fun on the mountain. We did not need to talk about lots of technical ski jargon. We just focused on having fun. If you start moving early, and get the wind in the face, the student learns right away about the intrinsic rewards that come along with sports like Alpine Skiing. This is all apart of our most to least prompting scheme, that falls in line with errorless teaching principles of ABA. Folbe really loved the Magic Carpet so it was easy to get her up on the hill and ready to ski. Quickly she learned to also love the sensations of gliding on skis. She needed lots of physical prompting and full physical assistance for this to become possible.

Early Progression

Fast forward about a week and we were able to fade the use of the “hook-ease.” Folbe had developed good balance and a great stance. However, she was not initiating turns on her own and she struggled to stay focused. So we moved to a combination of skiing on a pole together, assisted two-point holds, and using natural terrain features like banked hills to initiate turns. Eventually we brought out her favorite toy, the Piglet doll. Piglet became the point of focus for the next few days, and she had to follow Piglet through a cone course. The cone course was incredibly helpful as a visual support tool. A cone course aids the learner in transforming a blanketed-white, wide-open ski run; into a more tangible and concrete path in which to take. It provides much needed structure to an otherwise abstract world. As we would pass each set of cones we would call out the color, “Red,” “Green,” “Blue,” and so on. After many many runs using these strategies, Folbe finally started following me independently, initiating her own turns, and following without the use of Piglet, cones, or any physical assistance. This was a tremendously rewarding breakthrough—for student, instructor, and family—and many tears of joy were shed over this accomplishment.

Today & Moving Forward

With this breakthrough, the fun really began! Now, Folbe and I are able to ski all over the mountain together! We search for powder stashes on the sides of trails and she is even able to stay within my ski tracks as I make completed turns down the hill (Green and Blue terrain) . This has improved Folbe’s turn shape dramatically, as we now control speed with good tactics and line choice rather than braking. Folbe is now skiing better than her NT siblings. Her family is so incredibly thrilled by this that it influenced their decision of relocating to the Roaring Fork Valley of Aspen to continue to allow Folbe to thrive in the natural world. Now that they live here, Folbe is enrolled in a mainstream group ski program with her Neurotypical peers. This is direct evidence of the transformational potential of these private lessons. Without them, she would not be ready to integrate into this type of group lesson. Watching this progression over five years has been one of the most magical things I have ever witnessed or been apart of. I am beyond proud of this young lady, and I cannot wait to see what she will accomplish in the future. She continues to surprise me and impress me every day I get out with her. This student/teacher relationship is one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Ascendigo Autism Services’ Adventures has developed the first and only certified ski teaching program specifically for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Ascendigo’s approach represents a unique synergy of the science of evidence-based best practices from behavioral therapy (applied behavior analysis) and positive behavior support ski/snowboard instruction.

Ascendigo’s instruction team consists of experienced ski pros from the Ski Schools of Aspen/Snowmass, with additional training in autism-specific strategies for teaching sports skills and other behaviors.

Ski and snowboard lessons are being taught right now at Snowmass Ski Area in Colorado, and will continue until April 16, 2017. Sign up today for an Ascendigo ski lesson for beginners through experts, at special Ascendigo discounted rates, by calling (970) 927-3143, or through our website.

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