Exercise & Autism


So I’m sitting in my doctor’s office, waiting to find out why my “bilirubin” is high, and does it imply an issue with my gall bladder.

My life was so much simpler before I had a G.P.

And since I’m waiting, I’m checking out my iPhone. And, BTW, this is one of the better aspects of cell phones that perform just about every imaginable function. Phone, camera, game station, television, social connector, you name it, you can do it on your phone. So we are no longer at the mercy of whatever magazines or television programs the doctor or his receptionist chooses to provide for us. The days of 15 back issues of Reader’s Digest and 7 Home & Gardens are over. “Humor in Uniform”? I don’t think so.

But I digress….

So as I’m perusing my iPhone my eye gets caught by a video on the television about exercise and it’s impact on autism. I have friends who have children who deal with this, and so I thought it was a great subject for a blog. So here is what I’ve discovered about the relationship between the two, and the ways in which exercise can positively affect children, and adults,  who are dealing with autism.

Exercise for those with autism doesn’t just help to increase their level of fitness; research shows that it is a building block to improving their focus, maladaptive behaviors, social skills and language development. Families impacted with autism and developmental disorders are continuously trying to improve their child’s life through various means, including behavioral and motor therapies, diet, and other cognitive therapies. While all of these efforts are vital during early childhood, many parents have found that exercise will pave the way for the best possible future. Exercise can reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep (Autism Research Institute, 2004)

But for many children, chances are that exercise is not part of the prescribed routine, says Meghann Lloyd,  associate professor of health sciences at the University of Ontario in Canada. Dozens of small studies suggest that, aside from boosting motor skills, movement-based therapies may improve social communication, attention, behavioral issues and performance on academic tasks. Because the evidence is based largely on pilot trials, it does not show exactly how exercise produces these outcomes, or which types of exercise are most beneficial. But the roots of many of the gains may be social. “Think about all the things you learn from play: turn-taking, role-playing, verbal and nonverbal communication, social roles,” Lloyd says. “Kids with autism might learn how to walk and sit and roll over on time, but once you get into skills that are socially oriented — like kicking and catching a ball, skipping, running, hopping and learning [motor skills] — they tend to be quite delayed,” says Lloyd. . More than 80 percent of children with autism struggle with coordinated movements, such as manipulating scissors or kicking a soccer ball.

Perhaps partly as a result of inactivity, children with autism are twice as likely to be overweight and about five times as likely to be obese as their typical peers. . It has been well documented that the prevalence of obesity in children with ASD is 13.1% higher than typically developing children and 20.4% higher in children with similar developmental disabilities such as ADD/ADHD, and LD (Philips, et all, 2014). Children with ASD are less physically active than children without ASD (Tyler et al., 2014).

Exercise is likely to have the same physical benefits in children with autism as it does in other children. In a 2014 review, it was reported that a wide variety of fitness interventions  helped reduce obesity in children with disabilities, including autism.

For many children exercise is provided in Occupational and Physical Therapy. But when they have met their milestones, become pain free, or insurance runs out, it unfortunately comes to an end. As teenagers and young adults, their need for movement and sensory integration doesn’t stop, and exercise helps fill the gap.

But how to integrate physical activity into your autistic child’s lifestyle?

The easiest and most productive way is to have an exercise professional come to your house and work with your child. But it’s possible for parents and teachers to set up exercise programs at home and at school. Here’s a few suggestions on how to introduce activity;

  1. Start small

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get at least an hour of physical activity daily.  You may be thinking to yourself, “exercise is another hour in my day that we just don’t have.” The fact is that you can start small. Anything is better than nothing. Shorter periods of physical activity, spaced throughout the day, tend to be easier to maintain. Remember: The goal is to make physical activity a regular and enjoyable part of daily life. So, be patient and think long term.

  1. Sample different types of physical activity

A wide range of activities can deliver benefits. Examples would include;

* Fitness. An activity that involves moderate to vigorous activity – activity that gets a person breathing heavily.

* Social interaction. An activity that involves one or more other people, such as tennis or catch.

* Independence. An activity that can be done alone, such as a home fitness or yoga routine – perhaps with the help of a video

  1. Be a role model

As a parent, you are the most important role model for your child. I encourage you to model an active lifestyle for your child. Show them the enjoyment and value you gain from being active.

  1. Use pictures

Many people on the spectrum benefit from visual supports and they can be especially helpful when you start incorporating exercise into part of your child’s regular routine.

  1. Establish structure

Structure and routine are vital for children’s development and particularly if they are on the autism spectrum.

  1. Persistence

Be patient, be kind, but be persistent. If you get them moving, even for three minutes, that is three minutes of positive activity Of course you’ll want to gradually increase the amount of time your child spends being physically active, but you have done a good job in making this start, so give yourself some credit.

By the way, I know that parents who are raising children on the spectrum have many, many issues to deal with on a daily basis, and maybe they don’t need a single guy with no children to give them tips. But when I saw the video on this subject, I thought that if my writing  this piece gives just one parent a new idea or approach, it’s probably done more good than most of my blogs , and that’s worth it to me.

That’s my take.

Talk later,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s