Autism is a developmental disorder that typically affects children, manifesting in a variety of symptoms that range in severity. While causes remain unknown, therapeutic interventions have made great strides in the management and understanding of autism. Exercise and certain types of stimulation, such as with an exercise ball, may help improve attention, stimulate thinking and promote calm.
According to Mayoclinic.com, autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, that usually appear before age three, although it has been diagnosed later in life as well. It is generally "characterized by delays in social interaction, language as used in social communication, and development of symbolic or imaginative play," states Autism-help.org. As of 2010, there is no cure for autism; however, improvements have been made in therapy, diet and potential medication options. If your child has autism, talk to a doctor who specializes in ASD.
Autism and Exercise
Although it may be difficult to find time to promote activity, exercise for a child with autism is beneficial and an important part of therapy. According to Autism-help.org, exercise can improve fine motor skills, sensory integration issues, attention span, coordination, visual tracking of moving objects and reaction time. Discovering the right exercise for your child may take time, as each case of autism is different. The site recommends shaping exercise around your child's interest, making it easier to integrate into their daily routine. If he enjoys the activity, motivating him will be unnecessary.
Exercise balls vary in size, color and texture, making them ideal for stimulating a variety of ASD preferences. Bouncing, rolling and throwing exercise balls requires muscle strength, limb coordination, judgement and visual perception skills. The ability to know where you are in space is called proprioception; children with autism often have low proprioception. Autism-help.org states that bouncing on a large ball or pushing or skipping one can improve the sense of body awareness.
Sitting on an exercise ball or bouncing on one can improve attention and stimulation. Kimberly Smith, an occupational therapist who works with children with ASD, finds that attention improves when a child is sitting on an exercise ball. "I can also stimulate attention by having them bounce up and down on the ball," states Smith. She also increases calm by gently pressing the ball against their body, increasing their proprioception through contact.
Although autism has recently been in the media as reports of diagnoses are increasing, research regarding the benefits of exercise on people with ASD is not new. The "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders" published a study in 1982 that frequent jogging sessions helped reduce self-stimulating exercises, which interfere with appropriate behaviors. The journal published another study in 1994 that supported the 1982 findings; children and adults with autistic and developmental disorders benefited from exercise.
- Mayoclinic.com: Autism
- Autism-help: Autism Overview
- Autism-help: Autism and Exercise
- Kimberly Smith: Occupational Therapist: Philadelphia, PA
- PubMed.gov: The effects of physical exercise on self-stimulation and appropriate responding in autistic children
- PubMed.gov: Vigorous, aerobic exercise versus general motor training activities: effects on maladaptive and stereotypic behaviors of adults with both autism and mental retardation