I know exercise is important. But with all our autism-related therapies, there’s no energy left. Advice appreciated.
As challenging as it may be for anyone to develop and maintain a physically active lifestyle, the challenges can be amplified for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We are constantly reminded how important it is to teach our kids to make healthy life decisions. But sometimes it can feel like an impossible task when they have other special needs and obstacles.
So it may be no surprise to learn that nearly a third of children with ASD are medically obese. The problem appears to increase with age, with obesity affecting over a third of young adults on the spectrum.
Inadequate physical activity is among the primary reasons for these high rates of obesity. But let’s be honest, getting active can be particularly challenging when a child or adult is also struggling with autism-related issues in areas such as self-control, motivation or physical coordination. And the sights, sounds and tactile aspects of team sports can feel overwhelming for someone with sensory integration issues.
But there’s great payoff in finding physical recreation activities that do work for an individual on the autism spectrum.
Did you know that exercise can decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviors? This may be because the highly structured routines and repetitive motions involved in, say, running or swimming can distract from negative self-stimulating and repetitive behaviors. Physical activity can also promote self-esteem and improve mood and attention. For those who can participate in team sports, this type of structured activity can foster social interactions.
This isn’t to say that physical activity can or should replace proven behavioral interventions for ASD. Rather it can enhance their benefits.
For more information on recreational programs and activity tips for children and teens on the autism spectrum, see the physical fitness page in the Health & Wellness section of our website. To learn more about the importance of exercise for individuals with ASD, please see our special science report, “Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism.” And please use the comment section to share your experiences. What works and what doesn’t for you, your child or other loved one?
This Family Services blog, is written by Mary Carol Grabill. She is a mother of three, including an 11-year-old boy, Tommy, who has autism.
The first time I was exposed to Right Fit and Suzanne Gray, was during a summer camp for children with autism that my son Tommy attended. Part of the camp’s day was spent with Suzanne and the Right Fit staff, doing exercises that focused on different aspects of movement, body awareness, social skills, and much more. Right Fit’s “Raise the Bar” program uses physical fitness as a therapeutic tool to motivate, educate, and reinforce positive behavior in youths with autism.
I immediately witnessed how good Suzanne was with Tommy. She has so much positive energy, never tires, and is always working on a new project to benefit the lives of children and adults touched by autism. I asked her if she could work one on one with Tommy and that is how we got started with Right Fit.
On our first day, when I walked Tommy into her facility, I was nervous about Tommy’s first session. I assumed it would end early, due to Tommy’s unpredictable behavior, so I thought I would stick around. To my surprise, Suzanne suggested, “Why don’t you go grab a cup of coffee or something, Tommy will be fine here.” “What?!!!” I thought. “Leave Tommy alone?” I’m glad I did.
It’s amazing what kids can do when Mom is not around. While I was gone, Suzanne had complete control of Tommy, who can be quite the manipulator. But here is the difference: he wants to be at Right Fit. I decided then and there, this was a place where Tommy could thrive and call his own.
Tommy currently works out in Right Fit’s Raise the Bar program four times per week, in one-on-one and group settings. As a result of his participation in Raise the Bar, we have been able to take Tommy off the medication he took during the previous several years. He is physically fit and his self-stimulating behavior has decreased significantly. I firmly believe that exercise, and I mean a lot of exercise, has had a major impact on my son’s demeanor.
Everyday after school Tommy says, “I want to go to Right Fit.” I understand why: it is filled with good, honest, funny, caring, enthusiastic and hard working people. They are always positive, and if Tommy comes in stressed from school, which is typical, they want to know about it and provide an avenue for him to release his stress.
I don’t know what my family would do without Right Fit. Suzanne Gray and her entire staff are excellent. They all respect my son and that is one of the reasons he responds so well to Raise the Bar!
Family Services provides resources and information. If you have a question, contact the Autism Response Team today. If you’re concerned that your child may be affected with autism or if you’ve received a diagnosis, browse the Tools for Families section, where you’ll find our 100 Day Kit, and the Autism Video Glossary. If you’d like to do a quick search for service providers near you, select Find a Local Resource and browse the Resource Guide.