Exercise gives children with autism jump on social skills. Children with autism often receive lots of specialized care. Some complete as many as 40 hours per week of applied behavioral analysis (ABA), the most common behavioral treatment for autism. Others may also see a speech or occupational therapist.
But for many children, chances are that exercise is not part of the prescribed routine, says Meghann Lloyd, associate professor of health sciences at the University of Ontario in Canada. Yet a growing body of data suggests that exercise offers many of the benefits that traditional autism therapies do — plus a few they don’t.
Even though most children with autism have poor motor skills, “physical activities are often the last thing that people focus on,” says Lloyd. Instead, she says, parents’ emphasis is on their child learning how to talk, make eye contact, sit still in class and behave in social situations. But she says she tells parents, “On top of everything else, let’s get these kids active so they can gain all the other skills that they need.”
Dozens of small studies suggest that, aside from boosting motor skills, movement-based therapies may improve social communication, attention, behavioral issues and performance on academic tasks.