Autistic Kids Are Just as Fit, But They’d Rather Sit

A new study out of Oregon State University has concluded that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more sedentary than their neurotypical peers. This small-scale study of 29 children, both on and off the spectrum found that the autistic children spent an average of 70 minutes more sitting and 50 minutes less engaged in moderate physical activity each day. The study also found that the children with ASD were just as physically capable as their typically-developing peers in terms of body mass index, aerobic fitness, and flexibility.

The fitness levels of the children were measured at the Movement Studies in Disability Lab at Oregon State University, using assessment techniques commonly used in schools cross the country. Activities included and 20 meter shuttle run that measured aerobic fitness, a sit-and-reach test that measured flexibility, and a test that measured handgrip strength, in addition to height, weight, and body mass index measurements. The only area where the autistic children were found to lag behind was in the strength test.

According to study leader, Megan McDonald, the results were surprising and encouraging because they showed that autistic kids are on par with their peers in terms of physical fitness abilities.

“That’s really important for parents and teachers to understand, because it opens the door for them to participate in so many activities,” she said. “They can do it. Those abilities are there. We need to work with them to give them opportunities.”

While she also says that the results warrant further study into why autistic children tend to be more sedentary when they are just as capable as other children, she also urges parents to make physical activity a part of their family’s daily routine. A walk in the park or bike ride every day can help to alleviate anxiety and foster a mind-body connection, while participating in an inclusive soccer team can help with coordination and social skills in addition to contributing to overall health.

Earlier studies have found that autistic people have a much higher risk of obesity than other people, and this sedentary tendency is most likely a contributing factor. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School in Brooklyn uses adaptive physical education in their gymnasium. This approach tailors fitness programs to each child’s particular abilities and needs.

How do you keep your autistic children active? What types of activities do they enjoy most? Do you have a hard time motivating your child to participate in sports or exercise? We want to hear from you. Please share your trials, tips, and concerns with us by replying to this post.