Newswise — Approximately 1% of the world's population lives with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including one in 54 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Research shows that physical activity offers many physical, cognitive and social benefits for individuals with autism. It can also build a healthier immune system, which helps minimize harmful effects of illness and disease.
In honor of World Autism Month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist® David Geslak teamed up to share three physical activity strategies for children with autism.
“Exercise for those with autism doesn’t just help to increase their level of fitness,” says Geslak. “Exercise has been proven to increase focus, improve academic performance, reduce stereotypical behaviors and build confidence.”
Geslak is the founder and president of Exercise Connection, which offers multiple programs focused on using exercise to improve the lives of those with autism. A pioneer in the field, Geslak’s passion also led him to partner with ACSM to create the fitness industry’s first educational certificate – the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate – to empower professionals to engage and implement individual or group exercise programs for those with autism.
Geslak offers three simple evidence-based strategies to help get those with autism moving:
- Use visuals. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is especially true for individuals with autism because communication can be one of the biggest challenges. Using pictures can also help establish structure and routine, while ultimately helping those with autism make the exercise connection.
- Make exercise part of their routine. Those on the autism spectrum benefit from following a structured schedule. An exercise program should be thoughtfully integrated into the daily or weekly routine. Even one exercise session per week can be beneficial.
- Remember, persistence over perfection. Don’t worry if the exercise doesn’t resemble what you’ve seen on TV or how you demonstrated it. You simply need to get your child or students moving. Engage them in a few exercises and gradually increase the amount of time or repetitions.
A study from Rutgers University showed that just 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise reduced echolalia (verbal repetition of phases or words) and hand-flapping, two common behaviors associated with autism.
“To get kids or adults moving even for three minutes or five reps is a win. Then you build the relationship and be their coach,” adds Geslak. “While behavioral and motor therapies, diet and other cognitive therapies are all vital, many parents have found that exercise paves the way for the best possible future.”
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About the American College of Sports Medicine
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 50,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine. Learn more at acsm.org.
About Exercise Connection:
Exercise Connection (EC) is using exercise to successfully empower the autism and special needs community to build an active lifestyle, resulting in many untold opportunities. Twelve universities have incorporated EC programs into their adapted physical education and special education programs. EC regularly presents at autism conferences around the world, including in Egypt, Dubai, Russia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea and Kazakhstan. Learn more at exerciseconnection.com.