Getting on Track: Autism and Fitness
Meeting all of the needs of an individual with autism can be a difficult task. Parents try to do everything they can to care for their children, however, it’s easy to get wrapped up in providing for a child’s special needs, and forget to address their physical fitness needs.
While therapy is extremely important, exercise is often overlooked in its favor. The reality is that everybody needs some type of physical activity, and individuals with autism are no exception to that.
Studies show that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are less active than those without it, and while research also shows that people on the spectrum need and benefit from physical activity, many parents don’t know how to introduce their children to exercise.
There are very few fitness programs for those on the spectrum, and many physical education teachers and professionals lack understanding of the physical, emotional and sensory needs necessary to provide accommodations.
This is why SNACK*’s sports and fitness lessons taught by trained staff provide great opportunities for special needs children/teens/adults and their families.
“Once again, we all need to remember that these kids are still kids. I can remember when I realized we had a little boy, a son, not just a disabled child with autism and a seizure disorder. When I had my second son, it became so apparent what my older boy was missing in his life: sports, swimming and other forms of exercise. Having my younger “neurotypical” boy involved in all kinds of activities, it became apparent that he may not need all of the structure, but his brother sure did!!,” says Jackie Ceonzo Executive Director and Founder, SNACK & Friends, Inc.
However, there are many characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder that can make participating in physical activity difficult.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), children with ASD are more likely to have higher deficits in motor abilities- such as balance, postural stability, coordination, and motor dyspraxia- when compared to children without ASD. In addition, individuals with autism may have sensory sensitivity that can make visual, auditory and tactile stimuli in gyms or other recreational settings overwhelming.
It can also be hard for individuals with ASD to participate in sports or games with other children because of social anxiety, trouble communicating, interacting with others and difficulty sharing.
Participation in regular physical activity not only establishes healthy habits, lowers body mass index (BMI), and improves cardiovascular function, but it also can be a fun and/or therapeutic way to reduce many types of negative behaviors associated with autism.
According to the NCBI, a meta-analysis of 16 studies suggested that, on average, exercise interventions led to a 37% improvement in overall symptomatology of autism, specifically, behavioral and academic improvements.
Behavioral improvements include: reduction of stereotypical, aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, and hyperactivity. In terms of academic improvements, individuals with ASD were more academically responsive and on-task, and were less disruptive.
Along with its swimming program, SNACK*’s teen and 21+ sports and fitness classes provide great opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum to exercise, have fun and learn good habits. These innovative socialization and recreational programs provide teens and adults with the opportunity to interact with their peers and be themselves.
SNACK*’s Teen Fitness class is comprised of a rotation of yoga, sports, and movement throughout the semester.
Yoga teaches members relaxation techniques in a low sensory environment. Every member is able to go at his/her pace and work on different positions and breathing exercises that help teach members to self-regulate.
During the Sports class, members get to experience team building activities, from different team sports to challenging obstacle courses. Activities require communication in order to succeed. The class is designed so that all can participate and learn how to work as a team, a skill that will generalize into other areas of life.
SNACK*’s 21+ program also includes yoga and sports classes, along with an exercise class. Exercise is taught by a personal trainer and focuses on each individual’s physical strength in order to set and achieve individual goals. The goal of this class is to stress the importance of daily exercise to achieve overall good health and wellness.
Checkout Michael’s Workout Plan
SNACK* Founder Jackie Ceonzo encourages all parents with children on the spectrum to “be reasonable in your expectations. On day one, try to run a short distance once or twice and call it a day. End on a high note – short, sweet, successful. Our son has gone from choking in the water to swimming, from ignoring the basketball to making free throws, from sitting home stimming to community walking and learning streets signs. It can be done!”
For more information about SNACK*’s sports and fitness classes visit our program guide.