“I didn't know that I had fallen in love with motor behavior when I was 19 years old and teaching children in my hometown to swim. I just knew that I loved the moment when the kids ‘got’ it.”
Casey Breslin, assistant professor of kinesiology in Temple’s College of Public Health, has always loved to be around children, is the oldest of four siblings, and the daughter of a special education professional. It is no wonder that after graduating from college, she decided to become a professor in kinesiology, a discipline that would enable her to help children with special needs.
While earning her MEd and PhD, Breslin began working with children on the autism spectrum, and recognized there was opportunity to help them advance their motor skills.
“Research in the field that I saw emphasized the importance of developing their social skills, but we should also pay attention to helping children on the autism spectrum improve their motor skills,” said Breslin. “Children with autism benefit from physical activity. They are often happier, sleep better, and have longer attention spans.”
Motor behavior is the study of the intersection between physical size, growth, practice, culture, and experience. It informs how people move, why they move, and what happens when they move. Breslin has focused her career on teaching college students in Temple’s Department of Kinesiology about motor behavior through academic coursework and a new afterschool program dedicated to helping children with autism strengthen their motor and social skills.
The afterschool program, which began in the spring of 2014, takes place at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School two days a week. Breslin and select Kinesiology students provide 90 minutes of physical activity to children with autism in grades third through twelfth. The children learn the importance of listening skills and play games like catch, which requires them to look at and attend to a single object as they play. They also get the chance to drive the activities. Children are paired with one or two Temple students who coach them through the physical activities, which may also include games such as soccer, ultimate Frisbee, and T-ball.
According to Breslin, children with autism don’t always get an opportunity to be physically active in a group setting, as they may spend their afterschool time in occupational, speech, or physical therapy. She created the program to provide them with the chance to make exercise part of their educational planning. “The children benefit greatly from the afterschool program, but so do Temple’s students. They learn what autism is and how to modify the activities to make our time with the children encouraging and educational. Temple’s students get real-world experience that goes beyond in-classroom learning. As they become active participants in the program, they are making a difference by helping children with autism advance their motor and social skills in a fun way that everyone enjoys.”