The Peace in Speech (#226)
A Discrete Analysis of Autism Teaching (#228)

Mind and Body (#227)

"A healthy mind in a healthy body." Mens sana in corpore sano: This phrase is often taken to mean that having "mental well-being" leads to physical well-being, too.
FIfty years ago, autism was mislabeled as childhood schizophrenia; children with autism were thought to be "severely disturbed" in an emotional sense, thanks to the soundly disproved bad parenting and psychodynamic theories of the aetiology of autism. Recent research does point to abnormalities in the neuro-biological-chemical-make-up of autistic persons, whether because of genetics or from the environment or from mercury poisoning via thimerasol.

After recently observing, Charlie playing catch or scrawling his h's and a's and r's so that they become indistinguishable or letting go immediately when we've lifted him up to the rings at the playground, we have thought more and more about how developing Charlie's gross and fine motor skills can only contribute not only to his academic and educational progress, but to his overall sense of well-being. I have scheduled Charlie for a physical therapy evaluation in the coming weeks.

Sure Charlie is a natural swimmer and a long-distance bike rider (with plans to do the regular course at the 2006 Ride for Autism). But he cannot skip, dribble, jump rope, do soccer ball moves, hit a baseball, catch smaller balls (like a tennis ball), and a lot more. OTs have on and off said that Charlie has hypotonia and we need to do something about this, to teach Charlie to be the best that he can be.

In Autismland, educating the body is educating the mind.

Not that persons with disabilities, much less children with autism, are given appropriate or even adequate opportunities for developing their physical fitness, not to speak of their gross motor and fine motor coordination (as a recent New York Times article-- Disabled, and Shut Out at the Gym--reveals). While the NY Times article more specifically addresses discrimination against adult individuals with physical disabilities, Charlie and I have a large archive of experiences at the indoor pool and it has occurred to me that learning how to work out at any indoor gym will be a good leisure activity for him when he is an adult.

Our everyday life is crowded with dealing with autism in particular but, as Charlie's recent bout with a bad virus reminds us, we have to think of his overall health too: Charlie loves eating and the Risperdal that he takes has weight gain as a side effect. What if Charlie develops diabetes some day? Or high blood pressure? And has to take more medications, and to be taken to visit yet more doctors. I may sound like I'm in a panic, but autism is a lifelong disorder, and we have to think ahead now about Charlie living long and well, and healthily.
When Charlie was 5 -7 years old, he attended a weekly gymnastics class with typical children. I was his aide and he had a good time doing obstable courses, forward-rolls, balance beam, parallel bars, and just being with the other kids. Then the staff asked me to wear a staff t-shirt: Other parents had raised eyebrows at my always accompanying Charlie (which I made clear: "my son has autism"). At the next sign-up session, it was suggested (as in, insisted) that I sign Charlie up for a certain all-boys class.

We attended that class once. There were three other boys, two of whom seemed to be on the autism spectrum or to have "at least" ADHD. I smiled hard and asked for a refund.

Mens sana in corpore sano. What Charlie needs now is more specialized physical therapy, to develop his skills and--as attested by his always smiling when Jim plays catch with him---because he wants to. Charlie takes a lot of pleasure in his swimming and in riding his bike. I can only wonder at what it is like for Charlie to be taking neuroleptics and SSRI's that he needs to help him control his OCD and SIB behaviors and his anxiety, but that change his body, too.

In many ways, giving a child medication can seem an "easier" way out than the long, hard work of teaching him to hold his hands and track that ball, to put his fingers correctly around the bat and use the end to hit the pitched ball. The recent FDA panel calling for warnings on Ritalin and other stimulants attests to this. But in both cases, our goal is keeping Charlie and his head, and his mind, safe and, yes, healthy, and the rest of him to.

Just this morning, a student who is blind told me about playing frisbee and ping-pong.

The original Latin by the satirist Juvenal (in his Satire X.356) is Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano: "One ought to pray [or beg] for a healthy mind in a healthy body." We ought to--we must--demand that our kids be as physically fit and able as they can be, as their same-aged peers and not settle for adaptive P.E. or adaptive anything. Charlie is still coughing from last week's virus but he has been able to get through his school day, the long bus rides, and a late-afternoon verbal behavior session. As he showed when he hurried out to the bus this morning, his mind and body are ready and willing to grow and learn, and we must make sure he gets the right education to be sanus in body, mind, spirit and soul.



Hi Kristina,
I know what you mean about the Risperdal. K.C. has been taking Risperdal for about 1 1/2 now and he is heavy. I worry about Diabetes and what worries me the most is when I take out the bottle of Risperdal he will come running into the kitchen to take as if he knows it helps or I fear he's become addicted to it. I don't know if addicted is the right word but it seems this way especially when he hears the pill bottle and runs into the kitchen. I so want to get him off of the Risperdal but don't know what other alternatives I have that will actually help. He is so so much better on the Risperdal it has helped so much. The other thing I fear and I may be worrying too much, that when he older what if he's still on the Risperdal? I just don't want him thinking a pill is the answer to every problem either. But what to do? The Risperdal is helping so much if it wasn't for the Risperdal I expect he would have seriously hurt himself by now. I understand your feelings about meds. I should be more worried about his weight though as he is very "Robust."


Hi Christina--you could investigate martial arts. My daughter's dojo has several boys, one I'm guessing from his appearance with Downs' who isn't particularly verbal, two more who have physical and verbal challenges. I'd say, c'mon down, but the commute's a bit much.

Here are some links for you:

Disabled Sports USA

The listserve for adaptive physical education:

Charlie may enjoy learning to ride a horse at a therapeutic riding program. I know you teach in New Jersey, I've emailed you a list of North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA) programs in NJ.

The NARHA homepage is:

Out here in California, the community colleges offer adaptive PE--you might poke around your local CC and see what's there.

Yours for a healthy body


KCsMommy, Abilify is a medication similar to Risperdal that can have similar benefits without the weight gain. I was first made aware of it by a pediatric psychiatrist who gave a presentation at our parent support group. It's one of the drugs she presented that is used with kids on the spectrum. The usual disclaimers: I'm not a doctor, pharmacist, etc., apply here ;o)


Thought-provoking as always. What do we do when our child WANTS to participate with the "regular" kids? It's a subject I need to explore before time to sign up for t-ball. I appreciate your insight, as many of our other blogging friends have younger kids and haven't experienced some of this yet...


I haven't been up to much these days. Such is life. I've just been letting everything happen without me these days, but I don't care.


People are less moral than 30 years ago

The comments to this entry are closed.