April is Autism Awareness Month, and we are so thankful to have a trainer here at the Training House who works specifically with those along the Autism spectrum; Jamie Munro has seen firsthand the positive benefits of exercise for children with Autism, and we are excited to share some of those benefits with you in this post.
So let's get started, shall we?
Five Benefits of Exercise for Children with Autism:
1. Reduce Stereotypic Behaviors:
Studies have shown that children who engage in vigorous exercise (20 minutes or more, 3 to 4 days a week) have shown a decrease in stereotypic (self-stimulatory) behaviors, hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness. This is not something that happens overnight; in due time you will start seeing improvements in your child.
2. Improving Social Skills:
Children on the spectrum have a harder time engaging with their peers in a social setting. This could be due to anxiety, inability to read social cues, low self-esteem, decreased verbal communication, etc. When children engage in sports programs, they build social relationships with teammates, work with others to accomplish goals, and build confidence. Sports participation also allows children to feel like they have a role in society and be a part of a team, which they may not have felt before.
3. Establishing A Routine:
As many professionals and parents of children on the spectrum know, routines are incredibly important for them. Children with Autism tend to perform repeated self-stimulatory behaviors because it provides comfort that they are familiar with. It is important to implement physical activity slowly into a child’s life as they transition into a new routine. Find an activity that your child enjoys- like a long walk or a sport they may find fun- and introduce it into your child’s routine.
4. Promote Weight Loss:
Autism is related to a higher chance of early childhood obesity, which can lead to a greater chance that obesity can turn into more severe illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, bone and joint problems. Children with Autism tend to live more inactive lifestyles, which in turn makes it harder for them to maintain a healthier weight. By implementing an active lifestyle at a younger age, exercising becomes a part of your child’s routine to maintaining a healthier weight.
5. Improve Attention:
Many children on the Autism spectrum have trouble staying attentive in the classroom as well as at home. One reason for this decrease in attention among children on the spectrum is due to their stereotypic behaviors that become a distraction. By increasing their exercise, it will help decrease their stereotypic behaviors and improve attention. In addition, having your child join a sport will also help them work together with others, and improve listening to directions to accomplish the team’s goals.
Access to resources is a limitation that you often hear of in the fitness industry, especially when it comes to services such as Kinesiology. Autism is one of the few disabilities that has quite a bit of support behind it due to the amount of positive research on the effects of exercise and Autism.
My hope with this article is not only to be informative, but to bring awareness to the abilities that these individuals have rather than focussing on the diagnosis they have been given.
Exercise is an incredibly powerful tool and when used correctly it can enhance anyone's life both physically and mentally. Ultimately, a changed perspective on the possibilities that this incredible population has is what influences my life the most. Our role as a community moving forward has infinite possibilities, and it all starts with a conversation! So let's keep the dialogue open as we provide more and more support, encouragement and resources to those along the spectrum.
Resources for funding and local programs:
Written by Jamie Munro
Kinesiologist at the Training House
Vocational Counsellor at Venture Training