The Importance of Home Activity
By Kelly Bonner
“Physical activity is for everybody.”
It’s not only our slogan here at NCHPAD, it’s also true. There is a fabulous article on www.autismspeaks.org entitled “Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism.” The author writes about the increased rates of obesity among children with autism, stating that over half of them are either overweight or at risk for being overweight. With obesity come other common comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease and some that are more particular to individuals with autism, such as depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems.
Physical activity can help combat obesity and the comorbidities that often accompany it. The problem comes with knowing how to engage your child with autism in physical activity and how much is enough. The second half of that question is a little easier to answer than the first. The Surgeon General states that kids should get 60 minutes of active play every day. Most of that time should be in the form of aerobic activity, even reaching vigorous levels a couple of times each week, while the remainder of the time can be spent on muscle and bone strengthening activities. If your child isn’t physically able to do this, the main emphasis should be on keeping them from being sedentary as much as possible. For additional information on physical activity guidelines, recommendations, and types, check out this FAQ sheet regarding the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.
The harder question to answer is how you can engage your child in physical activity. You know your child better than anyone else, but there are some common barriers that can be easily handled with some planning. The most important part is structure. Make exercise a structured part of your child’s day so that he or she learns to expect it. This is especially important if your child isn’t in school due to a scheduled break like the weekend, summer vacation or a holiday. Try to structure their day so that activity happens at the same time every day. Having a picture or printed schedule of their day may help so that they know what to expect next and so activity time isn’t a shock to them.
The activity time itself should also be structured. Start with a warm up activity, followed by the activity itself, and ending with a cool down activity every time. The activity can be anything your child enjoys and is able to do. Often lifetime activities that are more vigorous in nature tend to work well and keep them focused. Some examples may include jogging on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or using an elliptical trainer.
Another great option is to teach them to be active during television commercial breaks or every 30 minutes if they are watching a movie. You can have some activity sticks ready for them to choose from so that they have some say in what activities they want to do. To find out more about activity sticks check out our article here. You may want to color code your activity sticks so that they have certain ones to choose from on certain days. For instance, they can choose from all the blue activity sticks on Mondays and all the orange activity sticks on Tuesdays.
Finally, make sure you have an appropriate award system in place for when they are active. Make sure the reward isn’t contradictory, like candy or sweets, and that it is something worthy of the request. Your reward system should also be structured so that they know what to expect. Sixty minutes of activity may gain them a television show they can watch later, while being active during commercial breaks may warrant a sticker or some other activity they enjoy doing.
With a little time to plan ahead you can have your child engaging in physical activity on a regular basis, which in turn should help your child reduce their risk of comorbidities.