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Exercise As a Life Changer For Those With Autism

Exercise is a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle for all. Various physical activity programs and exercises for youth with autism produce moderate to large benefits in different ways. Let us read further and know how exercise works as a life changer for those with autism.

Exercise As A Life Changer For Those With Autism

In the United States, more than 16% of children in the age group of 2-19 years of age are obese or overweight.(1) For children with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, this percentage goes higher with around 19% of children with ASD being classified as overweight. Exercise and physical activities can help in improving various skills in autistic children like motor skills, social functioning, muscular strength, and skill-related fitness. Below are some ways in which exercise acts as a life-changer for people with Autism.

    1. It Improves Social Skills

      There is proof that individuals with autism who participated in different physical activity programs showed significant improvements in their social and communication skills. Horseback riding, group plat, jogging, running and exergaming are some physical activities that helped people with autism improve their social skills.

      This has been explained by researchers that when appropriately designed, physical activity programs or group exercises can provide a safe and fun setting for practicing social skills.

    2. Exercise Improves Fitness

      It is also confirmed that exercise and various physical activities like horse riding and aquatic exercises significantly improve muscular strength and endurance.

      This is specifically important as previous studies have confirmed that people with autism tend to have poorer muscular strength and endurance than those of normal people of their age.(2)

    3. Improved Motor Skills

      A lot of exercises and physical activities can improve fundamental motor skills. These motor skills include throwing, catching, running, and so on. Moreover, it has also shown that exercise programs have improved these motor skills significantly among youth with autism.

    4. Increased Skill-Related Fitness

      Many people with autism have lower fitness skills as compared to other normal people. Such skills are body coordination, balance, visual-motor control, and various other mobility skills. It was found that different types of physical activities improve skill-related fitness in autistic youth. Such activities include motor skill training or table tennis, jumping, computer-based exergaming, and horse riding.

Some Exercises For Kids With Autism:

Here are some exercises that could be beneficial for kids with autism when done regularly:

  1. Bear Crawls:

    One with autism can try doing bear crawls that help in developing body awareness, improve motor skills and coordination, and also build strength in the upper body and the trunk.

    Read the instructions below to know how to perform bear crawls:

    • Kneel on all fours, keeping your hands under shoulders and your knees under hips.
    • Extend your legs until bent slightly. Create optimal contact with the floor by spreading your fingers wide.
    • Now, walk by using your feet and hands across the floor for around 10-20 feet approximately.
    • Then walk backward similarly by maintaining the position.
    • For optimal results, try to increase your speed and switch directions.
  2. Mirror Exercises:

    Individuals with autism find it difficult to interact with others or the environment. Mirror exercises encourage the autistic child to mimic what another person is doing, which in turn can increase coordination, social skills, and body awareness. You need a partner with you for this.

    Read below to know how to perform mirror exercises:

    • Stand facing your partner, keeping hands by your side.
    • Let the partner begin making slow movements with their arms. Try to start with circles and gradually progress to more complex patterns.
    • When you are ready, mimic the movements of your partner as if you were looking at yourself in the mirror. For example, if the partner raises their left arm, you raise your right arm.
    • Continue this activity for 2 minutes.
    • Gradually try to incorporate other body parts, such as the trunk, legs, and head.
    • Repeat 3-5 times.
  3. Star Jumps

    Star jumps are one of the best exercises that can work great for autistic individuals. These are great full-body exercises and help in improving cardiovascular endurance, strengthening the core and legs, and also increasing body awareness. The best thing about star jumps is that they can be performed anywhere and can be done multiple times with repetitions.

    Know-how to perform star jumps below:

    • Start in a squatting position with your knees bent, arms tucked in towards your chest, and feet flat on the ground.
    • Now, jump quickly from squatting, while extending arms and legs wide into an ‘X”
    • On landing to the ground back, return to your starting position with arms and legs tucked in.
    • Repeat this for 20 repetitions.
  4. Arm Circles

    Another exercise that can be a life-changer for those with autism could be the arm circles. As per a published study in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, it has been mentioned that movements similar to those exhibited by people with autism might help in providing required feedback to the body.(3) This might reduce repetitive behaviors like clapping or arm flapping. You can work greatly on your upper body with arm circles. This helps in increasing flexibility and strength in the back and shoulders. Arm circles can be done anywhere without any equipment.

    Read below to know about the procedure of doing arm circles:

    • Stand straight with your feet at shoulder-width apart and arms at your side.
    • Now extend your arms out to the side at shoulder height,
    • Keeping your arms straight, begin to make small circles with your hands.
    • Gradually make bigger circles, while creating movements from the shoulders.
    • Repeat this 20 times and then do the same in another direction.
  5. Medicine Ball Slams

    This is another exercise that can work great for those with autism. Throwing weighted objects such as medicine balls can improve your balance and core strength and also help in improving coordination. This exercise might also have specific therapeutic benefits and can stimulate brain centers that are responsible for short-term memory.

    Check below to know how to perform this exercise:

    • Start from a normal standing position, while holding a medicine ball in both hands together.
    • Raise the ball overhead keeping your arms straight,
    • Now, slam the medicine ball down to the floor with as much force as you can.
    • Then, bend your knees and pick up the ball.
    • Repeat this movement 20 times.
    • This exercise can be made harder by throwing the medicine ball to hit a target or by increasing the ball’s weight.

Tips To Follow Before Adopting Any Exercise Regimen:

  • Make sure that before beginning any exercise program with autism you consult with the doctor.
  • Begin slow and keep monitoring signs of fatigue, such as muscle cramps, shortness of breath, or dizziness.
  • Make sure that the autistic child or person is properly hydrated and have rested before exercising.
  • Always begin at a low intensity and work slowly your way up to harder or more vigorous exercises.

Take Away:

So, we get to know that exercise has got many benefits for individuals with autism. According to a study from Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, it is stated that 70% of autistic children suffer from movement impairments and it can get worse through an inactive or sedimentary lifestyle.(4)

It can be said that exercise and physical activity might not just reduce negative behaviors, but also help in increasing various coping skills and boost the overall quality of life in those with autism. So, if you or any of your known ones are dealing with autism and finding it hard to cope with their life, let exercise do the magic.


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 31, 2022

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