A supportive environment and plenty of positive reinforcement, starting in the home, are key when introducing a child with ASD to new exercises. Children with autism may be averse to typical play settings like playgrounds which are often loud, unpredictable, and highly social. Parents can increase children’s comfort with physical activity by:
- 1. Establishing a regular and predictable fitness routine.
- 2. Seeking out autism-friendly fitness settings and facilitators.
- 3. Using pictures and visual aids to supplement instruction and reinforce routines.
- 4. Offering a variety of physical activities to choose from.
- 5. Starting simple and increasing complexity over time.
Technology is an excellent tool for developing reinforcing fitness habits in children with ASD. Autism-friendly exercise videos, instructional fitness apps, and “exergaming” video games serve as visual aids to support fitness instruction and increase independent performance. These tools also allow children to exercise at home in a familiar and predictable environment.
Parents, in particular, will benefit from the “Improving the Lives of Individuals with Autism through Exercise” video series from the U.S. National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability. This video series includes helpful tips and information on introducing children with autism to exercise. Other leading video series include children’s yoga, sing-a-long exercises, and PE sessions with extra time to demonstrate exercises.
Touchscreen devices that allow interaction are especially beneficial for engaging young children in exercise. While not a replacement for adult supervision, bumper phone cases and screen protectors help young children use tablets, smartphones, and other touchscreen devices safely.