Thursday, August 03, 2006

Adaptive Sports for Kids with Autism

The New York Times published an article today, "A Can-Do Approach to Autistic Children and Athletics," that parents should read. Embedded in the story's research are some encouraging anecdotes and important health notes for kids who have autism spectrum disorders.

The main point of the article is this: "Autistic children, even those who are considered low functioning, can excel at activities like swimming, martial arts, running and surfing -- sports that don't entail having to read social cues or figure out when to pass the ball."

In the article Georgia Frey, an associate professor at Indiana University, points out that parents of kids with autism have a lot of battles to fight, "So when it comes to getting their kids involved in recreation and physical activity, it can seem too exhausting. But I do think that parents see the value in these programs, because the demand for them is very high."

There are important health reasons for that high demand, the article points out. All kids need exercise of course. But some kids with autism may need exercise more than typical ones, for its fitness and therapeutic benefits. For one thing, rigorous exercise such as running and swimming (more than playing alone with a bouncing ball) can have a calming effect on children who might otherwise spend that time doing repetitive, stereotypical movements with their bodies. A second reason is that the high number of autistic children who take antipsychotic and other drugs are susceptible to side effects that include weight gain.

The Times story refers to a number of experts and adaptive sports programs around the country. Among them:

  • Georgia Frey's adaptive physical education program at Indian University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The program, which offers movement, bicycling and other lessons based on individual child assessments, won recognition from its local chapter of the Autism Society of America in 2004.
  • The Aqua Pros Swim School in San Diego, which runs a "pool pals" program for kids on the spectrum.
  • The North East Westchester Special Recreation Program in Hawthorne, N.Y., which offers swimming, Special Olympics training in a number of sports, as well as social activities, and day-long and weekend outings. It is for both children and adults with developmental disabilities.
That such programs offer both physical fitness and social benefits to kids on the autism spectrum shows their value. Participating in them can be a source of self-esteem for the kids, pleasure and pride for parents. If you see examples of other programs, please drop me an e-mail.

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