By: Jeannie Lozowski, Division 1 Collegiate Athlete
Most forms of autism therapy come from programs that aim to develop communication, cognitive, and social skills. A majority of these skills are taught in a classroom setting where students can engage with teachers and other ASD students. Although this treatment is necessary, there is one form of therapy that is most neglected among individuals with autism: physical activity.
Physical activity provides the same components as classroom style autism treatments such as communication and cognitive skills as well as sensory processing. However, physical activity may also provide; increased motor skills, better cardiovascular health, and more controlled mechanisms such as body rocking, arm flapping, and head-nodding. Aside from these benefits, implementing a fitness program as a part of your therapy regimen promotes higher self-esteem and increased happiness.
The rates of childhood obesity have been on the rise since the 1960’s. Individuals with ASD are twice as likely to be overweight and about five times as likely to be obese compared to their peers. Lack of physical activity and being overweight can lead to joint compared to their peers. Lack of physical activity and being overweight can lead to joint pain, limited motor functioning, low motivation in terms of physical activity, and even increased chance for diabetes. To combat these negative encounters, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 60 min of daily exercise.
From my experience, fitness is all about finding what works for the individual. Partaking in physical activity should be enjoyable. Some people may enjoy playing sports and being competitive while others may enjoy games and activities such as tag or dancing. Growing up, I was a very competitive kid, but I was not an avid team sport person. I found that my niche was tennis. Tennis kept me active, engaged, and brought me a lot of my closest friends. The sport has taught me so many life lessons and made me learn a lot about myself as an individual. Aside from tennis, I enjoy going to the gym and lifting weights on my own. Lifting and tennis go hand in hand; increasing my strength off court helped me increase my confidence on court.
Physical activity as a whole causes the body to release chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins interact with the brains receptors that reduce your perception of pain. This process promotes a positive feeling in the body and overall can increase happiness.
Having elevated levels of positive emotion in individuals with ASD leads to increased cognitive functioning, increased social skills, decreases in challenging behaviors, and less need of moral support.
In conclusion, physical activity is a beneficial form of therapy for autism. Aside from increasing motor skills, it promotes happiness and improved cardiovascular health. Many if not all research studies are in favor of individuals with autism engaging in physical activity. Finding a fitness program that works for you is a necessary aspect of an ASD treatment option.