Benefits of Sport and Exercise For Individuals With Autism
There are many ways to support exercise for individuals with autism, so they're able to successfully step into the world of sport. Physical exercise has a lot of health benefits; essentially as it enhances physical and emotional well-being, boosts self-esteem and helps improve social skills.
People on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are far more likely to miss out on sporting opportunities due to the condition’s ‘hidden’ differences. These can be a cumulation of anxiety in social situations, sensory challenges as well as difficulties in interpreting and understanding body language, verbal and non-verbal communication and other social cues.
It’s useful to know that regular exercise has many benefits and has been shown to decrease self-stimulatory behaviours such as hyperactivity, self-destructiveness and aggression. Sport also has the additional benefits of improving social skill through relationship building with teammates, listening skills and attention span.
Bringing the fun factor into sport makes it less daunting. Engaging in arts and crafts, life skills games or playing with their favourite sensory toys, are all activities that help to nurture both physical coordination and social skills in the home environment. Gradually building their experience and confidence by joining in activities organised by clubs who are more accommodating to their needs.
Choosing the right right coach who has the experience, qualifications, knowledge, empathy and is ambitious for your child or adult with additional needs will bring out the best in them and have the best possible experience and outcome. Having these conversations very early on with the coach or team leader helps to educate and ensure everyone involved is supported. Here are a number of sporting activities that are team-based or individually focused, that may suit someone with autism.
Team Sports Suitable For Autistic Individuals
Basic swimming strokes and water-play mean this is a more manageable team activity. This sport works as it still allows for individual competition and group participation. It's a great way to encourage exercise for individuals with autism.
This is another great sport for those with autism to try. Events relating to track and field, such as running, javelin or long-jump are all activities that mean an autistic person can enjoy individual competition, that still contributes to the team.
Speaking from my own personal experience, gymnastics and specifically trampolining can be a great sport that’ll allow those with autism to prosper without barriers. My son Ethan has autism, he used to spend his nights and days bouncing on his trampoline, getting through one standard garden trampoline a year! It’s something he was so happy doing, so it was only natural that I had to find a way of structuring his bountiful energy.
We travel over 60 miles weekly to attend the right club, Aspire Springers Trampoline Club in Gloucester. Head Coach Dawn and her wonderful team of coaches have, with their dedication, transformed Ethan into an athlete and national champion. Words cannot describe how good it makes Ethan feel to be part of a team, unconditional love & friendship from his peers, as well as pride in his achievements. He leads a fuller life with year-round activities, attending competitions all over the UK and most importantly, has made friends in his own special way.
Non-Team Sports Suitable For Autistic Individuals
Martial Arts: there are so many different types of martial arts for individuals with autism to enjoy, such as karate, judo, taekwondo aikido, and many more. This activity is great for combining repetition, structure and discipline in a fun and active way, a great way to encourage exercise for individuals with autism.
Although this can be a pricey activity, it can be incredibly rewarding to those with autism. In fact, many autistic children ride horses as a therapeutic activity and often find a different level of communication and comfort. “The Horse Boy” a must read on autism and equine therapy.
The mental, spiritual and psychological benefits of yoga are countless. It’s not a sport as such in itself but found very beneficial and has been regularly practised in the east for centuries before the start of a school or working day. Yoga is an activity that demands mental discipline, mindfulness, balance and core strength. It could fit easily into a daily routine or form part of a group or family activity.
Tip: When it comes to different sports clubs there are many different types. Approaching a more specialised club catering solely to more challenging needs might work better for some. A hybrid sports club offering a mix of disabled and able-bodied opportunities, or a fully mainstream club can work for others.
Break Autism-Related Isolation Through Exercise For Individuals With Autism
Autism is often a ‘hidden’ disability and if it goes unsupported it can be incredibly isolating. However, by engaging in regular sports or exercise in small steps, those who have autism can begin to defy many of the mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and low-mood, that can and are heightened by autism-related isolation.
The National Autism Society have said themselves that ‘‘at least one in three autistic adults are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to lack of support”. However, it may well be the case that ‘traditional support’ for autistic individuals may also include participation in sport, exercise and even the social interaction that comes with it. Encouraging exercise for individuals with autism can be the first step on the road to better personal well-being.
Defence Against Rising Obesity
Several studies are claiming that children and adults with autism or other forms of developmental disabilities are more highly prone to developing obesity. Obesity can open itself to so many health-related conditions. Incorporating regular sporting activities of any kind can help to drastically reduce the possibility of developing health difficulties associated with obesity. However, understanding and appreciating why autistic children are more susceptible to weight-related issues are important:
- Sensory integration issues and routine disruption.
- Limitations on some physical activity can be caused by motor and social impairments
- Having a conversation with a nonverbal person about the complexities of healthy nutrition and encouraging exercise for individuals with autism can be incredibly difficult
- Weight gain can be linked to autism behavioural medication
Nurturing Self Worth
Engaging in sports or joining a sports clubs can help give an autistic individual a sense of self-worth and self-confidence through engaging in normal activities alongside other able-bodied people. All too often, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are reminded (intentionally or not) of all the things they cannot do, sport can help show them that they’re still able to do normal things.
It’s been shown that an autistic individual’s self-esteem strongly influences his or her interpersonal relationships, behaviour, and learning, so it’s something worth nurturing from an early age. It’s important that those who have autism seem themselves as valuable members of society with skills and strengths. Promoting exercise for individuals with autism is a great place to start.
As a parent of a child with Autism, I try to share any helpful tips and advice I can to help others. As a company we have dedicated and experienced staff who will do their utmost to help, so please stay in touch!