In all of the studies, exercise led to improvement in one or more of the following:
- Less stimming (this was the most common improvement. Perhaps this is because exercising may meet a similar sensory need as stimming),
- Reduced aggression or self-injury,
- Increased time on-task for academics,
- Improved accuracy in academics, and
- More time spent exercising.
We all know that exercise is important for all people, but it may have these specific benefits for people with autism. Of course, more research is needed to confirm this, but it is possible that encouraging the person with autism to exercise may save intervention time in other areas. Let's look next at what exercises were taught and how they were taught.
In the studies, the most common exercise that was taught was jogging. To teach jogging, one of the most common strategies used was modeling. A therapist or teacher would run beside the person and provide praise and encouragement for running.
For jogging, some studies also used a graduated guidance prompting system. The prompts were verbal (such as saying, "Keep running") and physical prompts, such as the teacher holding the person's arm or hand while running. Personally, I would prefer the "modeling" approach because it seems a little less invasive and restrictive for the person with autism, but it does look like both methods can be effective.
Other strategies for increasing jogging included running with other children or making running part of a game, such as "Tag" or "Follow-the-Leader."
For teaching other exercises, such as weight training or bike riding, the following strategies were used:
- Edible reinforcement (food rewards),
- Prompt hierarchies and prompt fading, and
- Modeling with verbal instructions.
This is only a very brief overview of the study. For complete details, please read the entire article:
Title: Physical Exercise and Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review
Authors: Lang. R., Koegel, L.K., Ashbaugh, K., Regester, A., Ence, W., & Smith, W.
Journal: Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Issue: Vol. 4, No. 4
Page Numbers: 565-576
Any opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Positively Autism, and are not those of the authors or publishers of this study.