PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND
Physical exercise benefits any child, but it has
particular benefits for children on the autism spectrum who experience
problems with communication abilities, social skills, and behavior.
This can show in problems with:
• Fine motor skills
• Sensory integration issues
• Poor attention span
• Poor coordination
• Visual tracking of moving objects
• Slow reaction times.
Despite its many benefits, exercise is often overlooked
by parents due to their own inactive lifestyle or being too busy.
But when physical exercise is cheap, safe, and healthy, it should
be one of the first interventions for a child on the autism spectrum.
Motivating your child may be difficult at first, and you may need
to shape the exercise around an interest they have. Once it forms
part of the child's routine, motivation is usually no longer a problem.
Team sports would have to be carefully considered
due to complexities of team work and communication that may overwhelm
a child on the autism spectrum. However, with the right timing
this can be part of your child's education and development of social
Ideally you should incorporate time into your
lifestyle to exercise with your child. Below are some useful kinds
of exercise for different issues arising from Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The Proprioceptive System helps children (and
adults) to locate their bodies in space. Autistic children often
have have poor proprioception and will need help to develop their
coordination. Therapy may include playing with weights, bouncing
on a trampoline or a large ball, skipping or pushing heavy objects.
The Vestibular System is located in our inner
ear. It responds to movement and gravity and is therefore involved
with our sense of balance, coordination and eye movements. Therapy
can include hanging upside down, rocking chairs, swings, spinning,
rolling, somersaulting, cartwheels and dancing. All these activities
involve the head moving in different ways that stimulate the vestibular
system. Be careful to observe the child carefully to be sure the
movement is not over stimulating.
Back and forth movement appears less stimulating
than side-to-side movement. The most stimulating movement tends
to be rotational (spinning) and should be used carefully. Ideally
activities will provide a variety of these movements. A rocking
motion will usually calm a child while vigorous motions like spinning
will stimulate them. Merry-go-rounds, being tossed on to cushions
or jumping trampolines can be real favorites with some children.
Experimenting and careful introduction of each activity is the way
Learning new skills involving movement
Skills such as tying shoe laces or riding a bike
can be difficult as they involve sequences of movements. Therapy
to help in this area may use swimming, mazes, obstacle courses,
constructional toys and building blocks.
Difficulty with using both sides of the body together
Crawling, hopscotch, skipping, playing musical
instruments, playing catch and bouncing balls with both hands are
some of the many activities that can help with bilateral integration.
Hand and eye coordination
Activities may include hitting with a bat, popping
bubbles, throwing and catching balls, beanbags and balloons.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
(This section reproduced from .asatonline.org)
Recreational sports may be a healthy and enjoyable
activity, affording opportunities to generalize skills learned in
therapy or school programs. However, their effects have not been
evaluated in scientific studies with strong experimental designs.
Antecedent exercise, in which an individual exercises
on a regular schedule, may reduce aggression or repetitive
behaviors for some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Celiberti, Bobo, Kelly,
Harris, & Handleman, 1997; Rosenthal-Malek & Mitchell, 1997).
Some studies suggest that simply placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings
with typical peers, without any other intervention, may increase
their social interactions (Lord & Hopkins, 1986) and reduce
their repetitive behaviors (McGee, Paradis, & Feldman, 1993),
but other studies have not shown these effects (Strain, 1983). Thus,
additional research is needed on whether simply placing children
with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings with typical peers is effective.
However, there is strong evidence from multiple
studies that placing children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in settings with typically
developing peers who have been taught to serve as tutors or models
is effective in increasing social interactions (McConnell, 2002).
Recreational sports may have health benefits,
may be an enjoyable leisure activity for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and,
in some cases, may help prevent problem behavior such as aggression.
Sports also may afford opportunities for socialization, particularly
if peers who have been taught to serve as tutors or models are available
during the activity.
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range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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