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Autism and Exercise: Towards a Healthier Lifestyle

Did you know that children diagnosed with autism have a seven percent higher likely chance of becoming obese than those without autism? While this might seem like common sense—after all children with autism are far less likely to participate in team sports, play with other children, or develop an athletic lifestyle—helping your child to become more active and less prone to weight gain is not quite as obvious.

First off, besides staying in shape and keeping off the pounds, what are the psychological benefits of exercise for children with autism? Adults with autism have repeatedly cited exercise as being crucial to developing tools for self-regulation and better understanding their environment. In addition, since athletics are a largely non-verbal form of exercise, they promote social engagement with other children and even mitigate some of the side effects of medication used to treat autism.

So to get your child engaged in athletic activities and exercise, it’s important to first and foremost develop a custom regimen that highlights a child’s strengths and general interests. As children with autism are often prone to rituals, turning these physical rituals into actual exercise is a fantastic and easy way to get a child interested in physical activity.

Another method in stimulating physical activity is regularly trying out new types of activities. While any child will quickly tire of doing the same old exercise over and over again, children with autism in particular benefit from variety in their exercise regime. One outlet for physical activity that is based on variety while helping children to better cope with symptoms is karate and martial arts. Not only is karate based around a diverse regime of exercises and activities, it also promotes social assertiveness and cooperation with other children, all the while helping children to better hone their sense of balance and gain greater control over their bodies.

In addition to martial arts, another key component in stimulating active behavior in the form of exercise is to keep checklists. By doing this, you and your child actively communicate what their goals are for working out and they get a genuine sense of achievement upon successfully completing a list of exercises. Of course, be sure to keep the checklist varied and change it weekly to keep things fresh and interesting for your child. Also, give room for your child to choose his or her own activities as this will help them develop a genuine interest and commitment to their exercise.

Finally, in helping to pick what activities and exercises to do, simply using household items that your child can incorporate into their exercise. For example, if you want your child to practice jumping, use a common object like a beanbag or stuffed animal that is easily accessible and your child can engage with on his or her own schedule. Furthermore, the sense of accomplishment he or she receives from successfully jumping over a hurdle is crucial in helping them to develop a regular routine in exercise. While there are numerous options in how you can help your child form a genuine interest and commitment to exercise, the psychological and physical benefits are truly endless.