A great – and beneficial – activity for people with autism is exercise.In particular, studies have shown that exercise reduces problem behaviors such as the need for repetition, disruptiveness, aggression and self-injury in people with autism. And, these benefits can last for several hours during and after exercise.
According to Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. in his paper, “Physical Exercise and Autism,” for the Autism Institute, “One of the most effective treatments for autistic people is exercise. Vigorous exercise means a 20-minute or longer aerobic workout, 3 to 4 days a week; mild exercise has little effect on behavior. Many autistic children gain weight if they have an inactive lifestyle, and weight gain brings another set of problems.”Motivating children can be difficult. Motivating an autistic child to exercise can really be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help your autistic child become excited to participate in a fitness program.
· Create progress sheets/displays. Everyone likes to see improvement. Create a visual representation that shows where your child began (ie – 3 sit-ups), where you child is now (5 sit-ups) and displays your child’s goal (10 sit-ups).
· Does your child have a specific interest? Shape the exercise routine to fit your child’s hobbies. For example, if your child enjoys comic books, create an obstacle course based on a scenario from Marvel’s “The Avengers” using old sheets, lawn chairs, boxes or even sofa cushions and mattresses. Pretend Loki has returned to Earth. Your child should choose his/her favorite Avenger and use that character’s power to conquer the maze and save the planet.
· Include the whole family. Everyone can benefit from additional exercise so become a role model for your kids by helping them try new activities. Show them that exercise can be exciting and can be easily incorporated into daily life. Make fitness fun and teach your kids the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle from a young age. The younger a child is when this lesson is learned, the more opportunity for a healthy adulthood.
· Reward difficult exercises with 10 minutes of a fun activity your child selects. I’ve found that the children I train in my gym try their best to complete difficult tasks in order to have the freedom to choose their own ending activity. This helps build self-esteem and empowers the child to make decisions about his/her fitness routine.
As Play Through Autism has written in their Special Needs Exercise Blog, “One of the most important points to consider is how to motivate your child to exercise of their own will. Asking your child to continually perform exercises just for a small reward will not last long, but helping your child to find enjoyment in exercise will promote lifelong fitness. This isn’t revolutionary, this is ABA applied to exercise.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.For almost 30 years, Fitness for Health has created customized fitness programs for children and adults in the special needs community. Our one-on-one training and cutting edge technology help families reach their fitness goals while having fun. To learn about our programs for the autistic community or upcoming Open Gyms and Open Houses, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.