Monday, November 3, 2008

My winter job and autism.

    Here we are at Snowbird-unfortunately not where I work during the winter. I work at a tiny hill in Northern NJ where  I teach skiing to all ages, private and group. I especially enjoy teaching students with special needs, those with autism. My students range all over the autistic spectrum from those who are severely autistic to those with Asperger's Syndrome. I wish I could only teach the special needs kids as I find it immensely gratifying. Because I teach so many autistic children to ski I feel confident giving advice.

    My recommendations to parents of autistic children that are learning to ski, ( also for children with sensory sensitivity issues) are as follows:

1. Rent equipment for the season or ahead of time-  The rental area of any ski resort can be a nightmare for these type kids due to the chaos that is usually found there, also there is a lot of waiting which is difficult for the kids as well , and that would not be a good way to start off the day and then proceed to a lesson.

2. Have the child try on the boots and walk around in them, ideally- many times before the actual lesson. If the child cannot handle the boots the first time, try another day. But, if over and over the child cannot handle the boots... this might not be the year. If you have a child that likes to rollerblade or ice skate... the boots or skiing will probably not be a problem

3. Try to bring the child for a visit to the ski resort a day or two before the lesson. This seems to lessen anxiety.  Try to make it a fun, positive experience, maybe a hot chocolate as a treat or playing in the snow... anything that marks this a positive event.

4. Ask for an instructor that is familiar with children with autism.

5. Introduce the child to the instructor. let the instructor know about the child and his or her strengths and limitations. Give the instructor info regarding a reward when the lesson is over.
At first, I hated this. I had more than one parent give me fruit snacks to give their child after each ride up the chair lift. I felt like I was training a dog and thought it was horrible. But, these parents knew their children, and sure enough, once we got past the anxiety and unfamiliarity of the lesson ( it took many, many lessons) I eventually did not need the fruit snacks. in fact the parents were able to use the ski lesson as a reward!
6. It helps to have the ski lesson at the same time, place and with the same instructor. Predictability and routine lessen anxiety.

7.Explain to the child that they are to listen to the instructor. Let the instructor know if the child has any behaviors or triggers that might endanger the child or the instructor. Give the instructor advice or words to use if the child has a tantrum or is self injurious  that may cause problems on the chair lift or while skiing, (i.e. biting, hitting, slapping, pinching.) it can be very dangerous if the instructor does not have the right tools to calm the child down. 

8. Be aware that it will take time. Not all kids will take to it. Most of my students do. I love skiing backward as they follow me down the slope. I see grins sometimes and a few of my students sing all the way down. There is nothing better than that.

The best part of all for me? The parents. Most had no idea that their kids were capable of skiing, let alone being good at it. One Mom told me that when she looks up the hill and sees all the kids skiing down- she can't tell which is hers. They all look the same.

If you have any questions regarding autistic kids and skiing please email me- i love to share!


Ina J Offret said...

Would that hill be Vernon Valley? Our daughter works at The Canyons in Park City. Love it there. Spent T-giving there a few years ago in a penthouse (DELUXE!!!)

preppyplayer said...

Hi Ina,
smaller than that! its a little hill called Camp Gaw. I have considered teaching at Vernon Valley ( now called Mountain Creek) but it's a 45 minute drive. My plan is to someday be out in Utah teaching. My brother in law is a host at Snowbird. Alta and the Canyons are my fav. pent house, first class!

Ginny said...

I know Camp Gaw and you are right, it is small but perfect for kids. Mountain Creek can be crazy. I love skiing too and can't wait for snow, even if it is NJ snow.

SP said...

Hi...found your blog through a Google search for adaptive skiing instruction in NJ. We live in Bergen county and are interested in setting up some ski lessons at CampGaw for our twin 7-year-old daughters, both of whom are mildly autistic. Are you still teaching skiing and if so how would we go about lining up lessons with you?

preppyplayer said...

Hi SP,Hi!
I didn't want to leave my home phone # on my blog. Please check your blog for my # or email me at
I would love to teach your girls. I am not at Camp Gaw right now because I have hurt my elbow. But, I should be there in the next few weeks... Let's talk.