How Can Exercise Help with Autism or ASD?

Do you know of someone that has autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? Whether it be a family member, a colleague or a friend, exercise has been shown to help with ASD.

What is autism?

Autism is a complex neurobiological, developmental disorder that is typically diagnosed in childhood and often lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. Some characteristics of autism include an impaired ability to communicate and relate to others socially, a restricted range of activities, and repetitive behaviours such as following very specific routines.

What has the research shown?

It has been shown that vigorous or strenuous exercise is associated with decreases in stereotypic (self-stimulatory) behaviours, hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness. Vigorous exercise means a 20-minute or longer aerobic workout, 3 to 4 days a week; mild exercise has little effect on behaviour.

Research also shows that increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviours that are common among individuals with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviours. Behaviours such as body rocking, spinning, head-nodding, hand flapping, object-tapping, and light gazing, that have been shown to interfere with positive social behaviours and learning, can thus be controlled by the use of exercise. Additionally, exercise can discourage aggressive and self-injurious behaviours whilst improving attention span.

Exercise is important for children, adolescents and adults with autism because it can promote a healthy lifestyle but can also benefit the individual in many ways such as improve cardiovascular fitness, decrease prevalence of bone and joint problems, and even decrease the chances of depression. Participation of exercise can be challenging for someone with autism because of limited motor functioning, low motivation, difficulty in self-monitoring and increased auditory, visual and tactile stimuli but exercise involving social interaction such as a team sport can present a difficult situation for someone with autism but if implemented appropriately it can help overcome the many challenges they face to improve their quality of life.
If this hasn’t worked for you, there are multiple other treatments and therapies that you can try such as auditory integration training which has shown very positive results in treating disabilities such as autism and dyslexia.

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