More than half of children with autism spectrum disorders are overweight, at risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or have bone and joint problems. Creating a regular exercise routine that mimics play is essential to improve health issues in the long run.
The numbers are daunting: More than half of children with autism spectrum disorders are overweight, at risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or have bone and joint problems. A study by Boston researchers found that 36 percent of children with autism had a body mass index greater than the 85th percentile, and 19 percent had a BMI greater than the 95th percentile.
“They just don’t get it,” says James Ball, Ed.D., BCBA-D, director of clinical services for New York Families of Autistic Children and author of Early Intervention & Autism: Real-Life Questions, Real-Life Answers. Even for adults on the autism spectrum, Dr. Ball says, it can be challenging to get them to understand why people exercise.
Start instilling exercise habits early with 101 Games and Activities for Youth with Autism ($19.95 for book, $15.96 for e-book; healthylearning.com). This book outlines specific exercises parents can do with their children every day. “A regular fun routine that also mimics play is essential to improve the muscular imbalances and compensations, deficient motor skills, poor posture, and other fitness pitfalls common in youth with autism,” says author Suzanne M. Gray, a fitness expert for children with special needs.
Exercises incorporate easy-to-find items such as a stick (in Raise the Bar), a rope (for Walk the Plank), and balloons, which can help with eye/hand coordination. Gray offers these tips:
• Set a consistent daily routine for your child, with easy goals so he feels like he has accomplished something.
• Use charts and pictures to help kids understand what they are doing.
• Incorporate music into exercise.
• Try for one aerobic activity (such as hula hoops or running) each day plus one game or activity to help with gross motor skills (Go Fish, blowing bubbles, jewelry making).
More resources and tools for parents of kids on the spectrum.