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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Exercise physiology is a promising treatment option for children with ASD, as it offers a variety of benefits for their physical, cognitive, and social development. Studies have shown that exercise can improve physical fitness, motor skills, social behavior, and cognitive function in children with ASD. Additionally, exercise has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances in this population. However, it is important to remember that exercise should be used in conjunction with other therapies and should be tailored to each child's individual needs and preferences. By working with healthcare providers, exercise specialists can help children with ASD lead healthier, more active, and more fulfilling lives.
If you're a parent of a child with autism, you know that finding effective treatments can be a challenging and often overwhelming process. But have you ever considered exercise physiology as a possible solution? It may sound surprising, but research has shown that exercise can provide a variety of benefits for children with autism.
What is Exercise Physiology?
In simple terms, exercise physiology is the study of how the body responds to physical activity. We all know that exercise is good for our health, but recent research has shown that it can also be a valuable tool in helping children with autism improve their physical, cognitive, and social abilities.
Benefits of Exercise Physiology for Children with Autism
Improving Motor Skills and Coordination
One of the most significant benefits of exercise physiology for children with autism is improving motor skills and coordination. Many children with autism struggle with these skills, but exercise can help them develop by providing opportunities to practice movements and build strength. This can lead to improvements in gross motor skills, such as running and jumping, as well as fine motor skills, such as handwriting and manipulating objects. (Pan, 2010)
Reducing Stereotypical and Self-Injurious Behaviors
Another benefit of exercise is reducing stereotypical and self-injurious behaviors. Children with autism may engage in these types of behaviors, such as repetitive movements, hand-flapping, or head-banging. Exercise can help reduce these behaviors by providing a healthy outlet for excess energy and stress. (Sowa & Meulenbroek, 2012)
Enhancing Social and Communication Skills
Exercise can also enhance social and communication skills. Children with autism often struggle with social interactions and communication, but exercise can provide opportunities for them to engage with peers and practice important social skills, such as taking turns and following rules. Additionally, exercise can improve communication skills by enhancing nonverbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions. (Srinivasan, Pescatello, & Bhat, 2014)
Promoting Better Sleep and Mood
Lastly, exercise can promote better sleep and mood. Children with autism may experience sleep disturbances and mood disorders, but exercise can help regulate sleep patterns and promote better mood by increasing the production of endorphins, the body's natural mood-enhancing chemicals. (Tse, Lee, Chan, & Chen, 2017)
How Does Exercise Physiology Work as a Treatment Option for Children with Autism?
When we exercise, our heart rate and breathing rate increase, which brings more oxygen and nutrients to our muscles and organs. This increased blood flow also helps to remove waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which can build up during physical activity.
In the brain, exercise stimulates the production of a variety of chemicals, such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which can help improve mood and reduce stress. Exercise can also promote the growth of new neurons and enhance connectivity between different regions of the brain, which can lead to improvements in cognitive abilities.
Considerations When Using Exercise Physiology as a Treatment Option for Children with Autism
While exercise physiology can be a valuable treatment option for children with autism, it is important to recognize that it should not be used as a standalone therapy. Rather, exercise should be integrated into an overall treatment plan that includes other therapies, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy. (Srinivasan, Pescatello, & Bhat, 2014)
Collaboration between exercise specialists and other healthcare providers is essential to creating a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all aspects of a child's needs. Additionally, it is important to consider each child's individual needs, preferences, and personality when developing an exercise plan. Factors such as age, physical ability, and interests should be taken into account to ensure that the exercise is appropriate, enjoyable, and sustainable.
Exercise physiology is a promising treatment option for children with autism that offers a variety of benefits for their physical, cognitive, and social development. However, it is important to remember that exercise should be used in conjunction with other therapies and should be tailored to each child's individual needs and preferences. By working with healthcare providers, exercise specialists can help children with autism lead healthier, more active, and more fulfilling lives.
Pan, C. Y. (2010). The efficacy of an aquatic program on physical fitness and aquatic skills in children with and without autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4(4), 657-665.
Sowa, M., & Meulenbroek, R. (2012). Effects of physical exercise on autism spectrum disorders: A meta-analysis. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 46-57.
Srinivasan, S. M., Pescatello, L. S., & Bhat, A. N. (2014). Current perspectives on physical activity and exercise recommendations for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Physical Therapy, 94(6), 875-889.
Tse, L. F., Lee, P. H., Chan, C. C., & Chen, Y. Y. (2017). Aerobic exercise and low-dose melatonin for improving sleep quality and daytime function in children with autism spectrum disorder: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Sleep Medicine, 40, 69-78.