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Reaping the benefits of exercise for those on the autism spectrum

Laura Fine Director of Training/Autism Fitness Instructor Exercise Connection
Reaping the benefits of exercise for those on the autism spectrum

Exercise is forever and for everyone. Despite having a developmental disability, exercise provides the opportunity to develop an individual’s full physical and mental potential, while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Having a sedentary life and being overweight can increase one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, bone and joint issues, and even depression. And the effects of these conditions can take an even bigger toll on an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  
 


Do

Do focus on living a healthier lifestyle

In addition to teaching fitness, it is also important to educate individuals with ASD about living a healthier lifestyle. Teach them about healthy snack choices. Ensure that they drink plenty of water while exercising and provide samples of great pre- and post-workout snacks to help fuel the body.

Do incorporate positive reinforcements

In addition to improving fitness, motor function and behavior in individuals with ASD, exercise can help promote a positive self-image and self-esteem. It also can help increase overall happiness, which can lead to better social outcomes. 

Do continuously assess progress

It is important to assess individuals from day one and closely watch their progress. This is also helpful for parents who want to know exactly what their children are doing. Assessments can be performed formally through data charts or through informal notes and observation. When teaching larger classes, taking data can be tricky, so be sure to jot down information as soon as the class ends.

Do break down each activity

Breaking down each skill or sport into smaller, more organized tasks is very helpful because individuals with ASD often have difficulty performing multi-step activities. Setting up the class into stations and simple tasks will help individuals process the new information. For example, if you want to teach someone on the autism spectrum how to play basketball, you can create one station focused on dribbling, another station focused on passing, and a third station to practice shooting the ball.
 


Don't

Do not push too hard

It is vital to remember that individuals with ASD should not be pushed to their breaking point. To avoid this, building a relationship is key. Be sure to take cues from the individual if he or she tends to become overstimulated. Remember that something as simple as a buzzing light fixture can quickly cause overstimulation. It is also important to be careful of pushing participants to their breaking point of exhaustion.
 

Do not rely on verbal communication

Individuals with ASD have difficulty processing the spoken word, so the use of visual aids and nonverbal cues are extremely important. Instead of telling the individual the five steps of playing soccer, break them down visually and teach each step one at a time. 

Do not expect every student to be the same

Realizing that each participant is unique--and has his or her own sets of rules and needs--is very important. What works for one, will not necessarily work for the other. As a fitness leader, it is imperative to be flexible in your approach.

Do not forget to use age-appropriate activities

When training an individual one on one, or teaching a class, always use age-appropriate teaching techniques. Be sure not to use childish games, toys or visuals.
 


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Physical activity has been shown to improve fitness levels and motor coordination in individuals with ASD. Increasing aerobic exercise can greatly reduce negative, self-stimming behaviors that are common in individuals on the autism spectrum. Additionally, using highly structured exercise programs and routines can increase attention spans and decrease negative behavior.
 


More expert advice about Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Photo Credits: Â© Chepko Danil - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Laura FineDirector of Training/Autism Fitness Instructor

Laura has been working with individuals with autism and developmental disabilities since 1994. In 2002, her professional career began where she has worked with students in 5th grade through adult day programs, developing functional curriculums a...

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