Bond, Learn and Be Active with Your Child
There is no doubt that physical activity has positive physical and psychological benefits for children and adults. However, with an immeasurable amount of important items on the to-do list, finding the motivation to get up and get moving can feel all but stimulating. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes a host of behavioral and social factors that can make it even more difficult to facilitate exercise.
Children with ASD are 40% more likely to be overweight and/or obese than their peers. The rate of inactivity often becomes more prominent with increased age, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an added strain of other burdensome health problems. Fortunately, physical activity has advantages for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities. These advantages include decreased maladaptive behavior and movement disturbances, such as stereotypy (repetitive self-stimulatory movements of the body or objects). Incorporating 20-30 minute sessions of moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity has shown to reduce stereotypical behaviors, creating a window of time where energy can be allocated to complete other tasks such as homework or chores.
Poor motor skills, concerns of injury, behavior and learning problems, and the need for supervision have all been reported by parents as barriers to integrating exercise into their child’s daily routine. Becoming active as a family can help address some of these issues. Activities that involve less structured activities, such as jogging, hiking, walking the dog, and playtime with parents or siblings, have been found to be useful modes of increasing participation in physical exercise. Outdoor resources such as a basketball hoop, bicycle, trampoline, garden, and playground equipment have been reported to facilitate physical activity in children with ASD. Weather conditions have also been reported to be a boundary to becoming active. Some parents have noted that game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, which involves physical engagement, are useful for these times. Children with ASD may also find mirrored movements on the television appealing. Other fun indoor activities may include ride-on toys, an indoor gym in the garage or basement, tumbling mats, or a stationary bicycle or treadmill. While predictability is important when implementing a new routine, providing your child with options of physical activity can give them a sense of control and can potentially increase their desire to be active.
For younger children, physical activity paired with reinforcers such as tangibles, social praise, or screen time has been effective in stimulating activity. For older children and adolescents who seem to respond better to the enjoyment of an activity, a reduction of screen time in order to create time for fun activities may be necessary.
Although taking the time to explore and discover new types of physical activities can be a difficult endeavor, it creates time for parents and their children to bond with one another and opens up opportunities to learn about the world. Joining in on activities that your child enjoys can also create a sense of joy and fulfillment for parents. The benefits that come from activity range from increased health to more positive social interactions, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that we could all benefit from a prescription of physical activity.
Angelica Rivera is a graduate student studying clinical psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where she received her B.A. in Psychology. Her areas of research have focused on the social-emotional and cognitive factors that impact academic outcomes and sleep habits in college students. In her free time, she enjoys exercise for her mind and body, food, and traveling. She aspires to improve the lives of others though empowering individuals to achieve their maximum potential.Follow Angelica at https://twitter.com/Arrivera115