Exercise for kids on the Autism Spectrum

Autism is a neuro-developmental variation which primarily effects the brain and nervous system but it has whole body and whole person implications.

25% of Australia children are overweight and for children on the spectrum this percentage is even higher. Now, this isn’t directly due to ASD but rather that these children are often taking regular medications, perhaps have unusual eating habits and are often less active. The physical, mental, and social delays a child on the spectrum experiences can restrict their ability to get out, get active and participate as another child might. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or can’t exercise… In fact, research shows that there are amazing health, social and  behavioural benefits for children on the spectrum.

Taking part in regular exercise will improve a child’s:

  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Agility and Speed
  • Mood and Sleep
soccer team

Repetitive behaviours such as body-rocking, spinning, head-nodding and hand flapping are a common feature of ASD and regular exercise can quieten these if and when they become problematic for the individual. Perhaps one of the greatest discoveries on this front has been that by increasing aerobic exercise (exercise that makes you puff) there can be a significant decrease in the occurrence of these negative, self-stimulating behaviours.  One theory behind these findings is that the highly structured routines, or repetitive behaviours involved in running or swimming, may be similar to and/or distract from those self-stimulating, repetitive behaviours associated with being on the spectrum.

Another benefit to participating in regular exercise, particularly group exercise is the increase in a child’s social development. Children with ASD can miss out on group interactions because sometimes they don’t feel comfortable or their behaviour doesn’t suit a group setting. If this sounds scary, start your child off in one on one exercise sessions with an Exercise Physiologist. This way a routine can be made and the child will become more comfortable. Then as the child progresses they can move into small groups and then finally into larger groups.

Regardless of ability, feeling included is something everybody wants. Participating in group activities and sports is a great way to improve a child’s self-esteem and general happiness.  If you look around your local community, you may be able to find children’s exercise classes that offer developmental specific sessions.

Here at Melbourne Osteohealth we have Accredited Exercise Physiologists with experience working with a range of developmental variations. One on one sessions are available, as are group classes specifically for children with development difficulties. If you would like to have a discussion about how exercise can help you or your child, we would love to hear from you. Call us on (03) 8370 3044.

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