Exercise And Young People With Autism
One of the cornerstones of a healthy day is exercise, keeping the body limber and aiding the mind as it processes all the information that’s thrown at it throughout the day. Every human body benefits from a regular exercise routine, which improves fitness, relieves stress, and allows people to live longer, healthier lives. Children with autism that practice regular physical activity can extract added rewards from daily workouts, including heightened social skills, better motor function, weight loss and improved attention spans. Many parents have established exercise as a fun part of a daily routine for their children with autism and the best part is that many can be done in the comfort of the home or backyard. Other kids are finding new opportunities for social growth in leagues specifically designed to show kids the joy of organized sports while safeguarding their specific needs. Whatever the case, movement and activity have become a key factor for daily health, benefitting young people with autism in many ways.
Improving Fitness And Increased Motor Skills
Studies have shown in the past that young people with autism have a higher risk for obesity as well as significantly reduced muscle structure in comparison to individuals in the same age group. Intervening with a simple workout plan reduces these risks, keeping the body fit. Furthermore, with the elevated risk for impaired movement skills in people with ASD, interceding with exercise allows the body to create synapses in the brain and learn movement patterns that aid in improving movement. Many activities also help to promote visual perception skills, assisting the central nervous system to integrate vestibular and proprioceptive input when navigating around the environment.
Reducing Stereotypic Behavior Struggles
Self-stimulatory behaviors in young people with autism can be difficult to manage, which is why effective education and therapy programs are an absolute necessity for their success. Studies have also shown that young people who participate in exercise and physical activity display a decrease in stimulating behaviors. Daily workouts can be a big step in helping kids and teens with integrating their sensory system, resulting in better coping skills and communication. Many teens, particularly young men with autism, have benefitted from programs that incorporate boxing and other combat sports. Boxing gives the body increased proprioceptive input, which gets sent through the central nervous system to the brain, allowing the flight or fight response to decrease.
Enriching Social Opportunities
Team sports and exercise are a great way to get young people with autism involved with their peers to cultivate social skills. As kids and teens become more accustomed to regular activity, many have the opportunity to join sports leagues or get involved through their schools with sporting groups. For children and teens that often struggle with social situations, new physical workout regimens provide connections that can expand their social circle and communication opportunities. Programs designed for kids and teens with autism teach the same skills in an environment that is safe and understanding, providing a secure setting where kids can refine new talents through physical activity.
Refining The Routine
Young people with autism need routine in their lives to navigate their environment and their day. Exercise as a daily part of an established routine gets the body in better physical shape, but also helps center the mind. This can be a time that parents help their kids look forward to as a fun break from homework or other tasks. This is also a great excuse to get kids away from screens for awhile. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous or planned in a traditional sense with weights and cables either. Simple tasks can become part of the daily routine and help to incorporate movement into a young person’s day.
Practicing At Home
Physical activity can be daunting at first and many young people may be hesitant or resistant. The key to incorporating a good exercise regimen into their day is to start slow. Walking is a great starting point that can be done as a chore, like dog walking, or as a family activity like a planned trip to a destination like a local playground. Examples of some fun, quick exercises that you can do at home include:
- Bear Crawls – Crouch down with hands in front shoulder-width apart and feet behind you. Keep your hips in the air and eyes forward then crawl forward, taking four steps or more depending on space, then turn around and bear walk back.
- Star Jumps – Begin relaxed with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms close to the body. Squat down halfway and explode back up as high as possible. Fully extend your entire body, spreading legs and arms away from the body. As you land, bring your limbs back in and absorb your impact through the legs.
- Arm Circles – Stand and extend arms straight out by the sides. Move the arms to be parallel to the floor and perpendicular (90-degree angle) to your torso. Slowly make circles of about 1 foot in diameter with each outstretched arm and continue the circular motion of the outstretched arms for about ten seconds. Then reverse the movement, going the opposite direction.
These are just a few low impact exercises that experts recommend. There are a lot more out there that can be both beneficial and fun for kids and teens with autism. The key is to start slow, work within a child’s means and make something fun out of it. Not every teen is going to be able to overcome the obstacles presented in team or league sports, but luckily there are many activities that young people with autism can excel at while staying fit.
Taking It To The Streets
If your teen excels in physical exercise, craving more activity, or if parents want to see their young one expand their social skills in a team setting, parents could consider getting them involved in a local sports league. The National Center for Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has a great searchable list for inclusive leagues across the nation.
Children and teens that get involved in more physical activities formulate better standards for personal health and young people with autism are no different. Whether it’s a brisk walk or the local league, a little daily activity will help to improve physical and visual-motor functions, social skills and fitness for kids and teens with autism.
Lexington Services provides a variety of programs for children and adults with autism ranging from therapies for behavioral improvement to in-home care, including physical activities for a healthier lifestyle. Our staff at Lexington promote sensory integration, physical exercise and social skills through our various programs. Click here to learn more about the services Lexington can offer.
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