Columna talks with WPR’s Meiller about Fit Families program for children with autism

UW–Madison’s Luis Columna recently appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Larry Meiller Show” to talk about the Fit Families program for children with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

Columna is the director of Fit Families and an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology.

Luis Columna

“They are behind their peers in these skills,” he said, speaking of children who are diagnosed with autism, “… but sometimes physical activity is not on the radar of (their) parents.”

Columna explained that when children, along with their parents, engaged in physical activity through Fit Families, their communication skills were also enhanced, as the program integrates activities to improve both communication and sensory skills.

He also noted that though his research focuses on children with autism, there is potential to modify the program for children with other disabilities — such as Down’s Syndrome or ADHD.

Throughout the interview, Columna emphasized the importance of helping parents to work with their children to become physically active. Often, he said, “we presume (parents) know what to do, and what we are learning is that many times they lack the skills to teach physical activity. They think it is important — they value physical activity — but they don’t know how to do it, or they don’t know what equipment they can buy.”

“As part of Fit Families,” he said, “not only do we provide them with equipment for free, but also we give them a series of games and activities to match the equipment we provide.”

Columna said the program has changed some families’ lives. When parents have a child with a disability, he said, “they tend to be over protective. So what we are telling them is let them be kids — let them play, let them move — and they will surprise you. They will impress you, more than you think.”

“We are giving the parents an opportunity to see what their kids can do,” he said.

To learn more about Fit Families, listen to the full program on the WPR website, here.