Many do not realise how prevalent Autism can be, with 1 in 70 people estimated to be on the Autism spectrum (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2021). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of multisystem neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by impairments in social interactions and communication skills and the presence of repetitive behaviours and interests. Social effects can include reduced eye contact, issues with social reciprocity, and verbal and nonverbal communication delays (Srinivasan, S. et al., 2014).
Exercise is known to have many health benefits for the entire population, ranging from cardiovascular fitness, strength, body composition and many more (Srinivasan, S. et al., 2014). According to a limited review of children with ASD, it was found that there were physical improvements with an exercise intervention and a positive impact on the individual’s cognitive and social skills. Further, exercise was found to contribute to “decreasing unwanted behaviours and promoting desired ones with children with ASD” (Young, S., & Furgal, K, 2016).
Separate studies investigating exercise for children with ASD also assessed different training methods from group interventions to one on one sessions. First, an investigation found that the “individual programmes elicited significantly more improvement than the group interventions in the motor and, more surprisingly, also in the social domain” (Lynn, R., Koegel, R., et al., 2010). The second study found that individualised attention positively impacted each participant exercising (Young, S., & Furgal, K, 2016). It was also found that Aerobic exercise correlated to increased academic performance for these children (Lynn, R., Koegel, R., et al., 2010).
It has been recommended to incorporate an exercise program combining aerobic, resistance, flexibility, and neuromuscular training for maximum gains in fitness and body composition and the greatest social and cognitive benefits (Srinivasan, S. et al., 2014). Children with ASDs will need graded prompting or feedback in the form of brief initial verbal instructions, associated visual cues using demonstrations or picture schedules, and hand-overhand feedback when appropriate (Lynn, R., Koegel, R., et al. 2010). In addition, it is ideal to use adaptive modifications to different exercises to reduce the risk of injury and help with progression (Lynn, R., Koegel, R., et al., 2010). Overall, exercise has been shown to cause a positive effect on younger individuals with ASD with improvements in fitness, motor skills, behaviour, social skills and more (Srinivasan, S. et al., 2014).
Whilst many of these types of exercise can be implemented from the comfort of your home, it is also recommended that having your child meet with an exercise physiologist can provide them with structured and controlled training that will best meet their individual needs and can provide beneficial social interactions outside of their normal circles.
Lynn, R., Koegel, R., et al. (2010). Physical exercise and individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4(4) 565-576.
Srinivasan, S., Pescatello, L., & Bhat, A. (2014). Current Perspectives on Physical Activity and Exercise Recommendations for Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Physical Therapy, 94(6) 875-889.
‘What is Autism’ (2021). Autism Spectrum Australia (Website) https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/about-autism/what-is-autism
Young, S., & Furgal, K. (2016). Exercise Effects in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Short Review. Autism Open Access, 6(3). (researchgate)
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Jackson Cockerill (Exercise Physiologist)