Physical activity is known to have great health benefits for so many systems of the body as well as the mind in producing calm and controlling anxiety. Evidence shows however that “children with Autism Spectrum disorder are less physically active and fit than their typically developing peers” . When adolescents were asked why they didn’t enjoy team sports and physical education they said that they believed it was too hard to learn and didn’t feel it was fun or a good way to make friends. Unfortunately, research also shows that children with Autism are at increased risk of obesity and mental health problems associated with their disability, medications and difficulty with social functioning.
So what can we do to make physical activity fun and more inclusive?
In order for kids to enjoy movement, we need to look at programs that incorporate and support the unique characteristics of individuals with ASD. Studies have shown that exercise interventions such as jogging, horse back riding, martial arts, swimming and yoga/dance result in improvement in behavioural outcomes such as stereotypical behaviours, social-emotional function, and attention.
These sports have things in common:
- They are repetitive in nature
- In general, there are social “rules” in the sport which are easy to follow/learn
- They involve whole body rhythmical movement
- Involve less “unexpected” times that come with flying balls and personal space invaders
There is also some evidence arising to support other activities such as dancing, skating and scooter riding to improve social skills, body awareness, balance, movement, and function.
My advice, lets get kids moving. Movement should be fun, enjoyable and inclusive. If kids enjoy something, they will want to do something. This is half the battle.
Lets change the statistics and teach out kids to love physical activity and make our kids healthy for the future.