Did you know that children with autism spectrum disorder can benefit from physical activity just as much as typically developing children? Exercise not only helps kids with autism engage in social environments, but it also aids in weight loss and leads to better overall health. Studies show that vigorous activity for more than 20 minutes may decrease hyperactivity, aggression and stereotypical behaviors. Participation in regular sports or fitness programs might enhance social and motor skills, boost self-esteem and even improve performance on academic tasks. Here are a few tips on how parents and caregivers can motivate a child with autism to keep active.
First, speak with the child’s physician or psychologist to assess his or her readiness. Develop a structured fitness regimen based on the child’s interests or hobbies. Consider sampling autism-friendly physical activities — such as swimming, dancing, bowling, martial arts or horseback riding — to discover what the child enjoys best. Be sure to gradually expand the amount of time spent on activities. Using positive reinforcement such as praise or a rewards system could help speed the child’s progression.
Make exercise even more fun by getting active with your child. Modeling good fitness behavior can get him or her to develop a positive attitude toward exercise. Consider playing basketball, catch or joining a yoga class together. Daily walks with the family dog could also be a great way to get the child started on a path to physical fitness. Invite siblings, grandparents and other family members to get involved.
For more tips on how to encourage regular physical activity for children with autism spectrum disorder, see the accompanying guide.
Guide created by Lighthouse Autism Center
Author bio: Maggie Gendel is Director of Marketing and Support Services for Lighthouse Autism Center, a leading provider of ABA therapy in Indiana and Michigan. She has five years of experience in the industry.