What is Autism?
According to Autism Spectrum Australia. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people.
The word ‘spectrum’ describes the range of challenges that people on the Autism Spectrum may experience. And the severity to which they may be affected. Main areas of difficulty can be in social communication and / or interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests.
Why is exercise so important for those on the Autism Spectrum?
Research suggests that vigorous or strenuous exercise is associated with decreases in common behaviours including hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness. Vigorous exercise means a 20-minute + aerobic workout, 3 to 4 days a week. Research also suggests that increased aerobic exercise can decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviours that are common among people on the Spectrum. Behaviours such as body rocking, spinning, head nodding, hand flapping, object tapping and light gazing have been shown to interfere with positive social behaviours and learning. These behaviours can be controlled by the use of exercise. Additionally, exercise can discourage aggressive and self-harming behaviours while improving attention span.
I’ve heard that crossing the midline exercises can help build pathways in the brain, what does this involve?
Crossing the midline involves moving an eye, hand or foot into the space of the other eye, hand or foot. An example of crossing the midline in every day life would be scratching your ankle with the opposite hand. Crossing the midline helps to build pathways in the brain and is an important skill for developing appropriate motor and cognitive skills. Children who have difficultly with crossing the midline may have trouble with reading, writing, performing daily activities, developing fine and gross motor skills and participating in physical activities. There are a number of simple activities that you can do at home with your child to help them cross their midline. Example activities include –
- Kicking a leg across your body.
- Giving high fives across your body.
- Standing with your legs hip width apart and reaching for your left ankle with your right hand.
What other benefits can exercise and physical activity encourage?
Benefits of exercise that I have personally witnessed among my community members include –
- increased co-ordination
- improved strength
- increased confidence
- improved balance
- increased ability and willingness to perform daily activities
- better concentration
- increased willingness to participate in other physical activities such as school sports and family outdoor activities.
How can I encourage my child to be active?
Find out what motivates them and what they enjoy. Perhaps they like exploring and collecting things – try going for a walk and encouraging them to bend and jump every time they want to collect a rock or stick. Maybe they like to rumble and tumble and enjoy the deep pressure of pushing and pulling – try wrapping a resistance band around a pole and getting them to pull it, or use some thick pillows and get them to push against them. There is always one specific activity that my community members really love, I use that as a reward and motivator to encourage them to try a different activity. For example, one young lady loves jumping so each time she completes an activity she is rewarded with jumps. Another community member loves running on the spot so he gets to run on the spot after he completes a different activity. My little guy loves pushing and pulling so I added clips for him to play with in our back yard.
Who can I go to for support?
There is a variety of professionals out there that can support you on your journey –
- Your GP or paediatrician is a good starting point, they can assess the wellbeing of your child and provide you with an idea of what activities would benefit them.
- An occupational therapist can help with exercises to develop fine and gross motor skills.
- An experienced and qualified personal trainer can help to develop a plan that focuses on improving particular skills as per the goals you set for your child.