Physical Fitness

Everyone knows that physical fitness and exercise lead to better physical health. But it is less widely known that fitness and exercise can have positive effects on mental and behavioral health as well. 

Studies have shown that exercise improves attention, concentration and organizational skills, and also reduces problem behaviors. This page contains information from experts about the importance of fitness and how you and your family can improve your fitness and achieve a healthier lifestyle. 

Tips for an active and healthy lifestyle
Expert advice from Dr. Jean Gehricke, clinical psychologist and associate professor at The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at UCI, sharing tips for encouraging a healthy lifestyle in autistic youth.

Autism and Exercise: Special Benefits
Expert advice from Dr. Sean Healy, assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition at the University of Delaware, on the benefits of exercise and autism-friendly strategies for encouraging physical activity.

Can exercise improve behavior? Help encouraging a child who has autism
Expert advice from Daniel Coury, MD, medical director of Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network(AS-ATN) and a developmental-behavioral pediatrician with Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

10 tips for finding the best sports program for people with autism
From our Autism Response Team

Supporting Youth with Autism in Sports and Physical Activity Programs
From Leading the Way: Autism Friendly Youth Organizations, an Autism Speaks tool kit

Below is a post by Jackie Ceonzo, Executive Director and Founder, SNACK & Friends, Inc (Special Needs Activity Center for Kids

Children on the spectrum are still kids. They can play, run, swim, shoot baskets, kick a soccer ball, and play catch, just like their typical counterparts. They just need to be taught in an adapted fashion. Like most lessons taught to individuals on the spectrum, if you break them down, these lessons can be learned.

For example, in teaching baseball, start with teaching them to run from home plate to first base. The bases can serve as visual cues. Maybe add some arrows to point out the right direction to move around the bases. A sticker, a high five, or other reinforcers may be needed at the end of a successful run.

For parents and caregivers, there is no greater feeling than taking your child to do something a “typical” kid would do. We all would prefer to say we are going to kick a ball or heading out for a run rather than say we are going to therapy!! 

While therapy is very important, do not forget to schedule in the fitness piece. Exercise is important for the wellbeing of all people, regardless of age or ability.

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!!

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!