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4 Ways Children with Autism Can Benefit from Sports and Fitness

Posted on: November 10th, 2015 by SAAAC No Comments

Children and Teenagers with autism participating in sports and fitness programs collage

Childhood obesity is on the rise among all children. But children on the autism spectrum have an especially high risk of becoming overweight and obese. In fact, 33 percent of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are overweight while 17 percent are obese.

Of course, one of the best ways to combat obesity is through physical activity. Unfortunately, there seems to be a misconception that children on the autism spectrum aren’t able to participate in many sports. But that just isn’t the case. In fact, they can absolutely excel and reap the benefits of exercise that other children experience.

Here are a few tips for helping children with autism get involved in physical activity and sports:

Coach With Care

While children with ASD can absolutely participate in sports, it’s important that coaches and instructors recognize that those children will benefit from specific types of instruction. For example, the National Autistic Society explains that these children often need visual communication and spoken instructions. So, prior to a practice, you might show a team member with autism a visual schedule that illustrates what you’ll be doing during each chunk of the session. They also comprehend instructions better when they’re given to them on a one-on-one basis. So, if a child with autism is on your team, give them individual instructions either before or after you’ve addressed the team as a whole.

Make a Splash

Swimming is great for children with autism because its benefits go far beyond the opportunity for physical activity that it provides. In addition to being a great cardiovascular workout, swimming has been shown to help children with ASD reduce repetitive behaviors. As this article explains, it is believed that the repetitive motions required for swimming help relax and reduce anxiety, which, in turn, helps reduce a child’s more harmful or distracting repetitive behaviors. It is also believed that individual sports like swimming, track and field, bowling, and others are great for children with ASD because they provide opportunities for socializing without the pressure of having to follow the rapid changes that occur during many team sports.

Go for a Climb

Parents of children with autism shouldn’t be afraid to get a little creative when it comes to finding the right form of physical activity for their child. One possibility you might not have considered? Rock climbing! AutismDigest.com points out that many rec centers offer indoor climbing walls these days so rock climbing can be safe and monitored. It also points out that the personal satisfaction that comes with meeting a goal on the rock climbing wall can be a huge self-esteem booster for children with ASD.

Try Yoga

Just as yoga helps the rest of us build strength and calm our emotions, the same goes for children with autism. As Yoga International explains, the practice is increasingly being used to help children on the spectrum experience a reduction in “pain, anxiety, aggression, obsessive behaviors, and self-stimulatory activities.”

Children with autism should not be denied the joy that comes from exercising and playing with their peers. It’s important that coaches, parents, and teachers know that given a little extra instruction and care kids on the spectrum can excel in sports and reap the many benefits that come from regular physical activity.

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. She is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog. She lives in Kentucky with her family.