5 Important Exercises for Autistic Kids

Discover 5 essential exercises for autistic kids, promoting motor skill development and enhancing their overall well-being.

Importance of Exercise for Autistic Kids

Regular exercise plays a vital role in the overall well-being of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Physical activity not only promotes physical health but also has a positive impact on ASD symptoms and behavioral skills.

Impact of Exercise on ASD Symptoms

Research has shown that exercise improves the social and behavioral skills of children and adolescents with ASD [1]. A 48-week exercise intervention program has been found to substantially decrease ASD-related social interaction problems, attention deficit, emotional reactivity, stereotypical verbal and motor behavior, and sleep disturbances. However, it's important to note that exercise does not affect eye contact and food selectivity in children and adolescents with ASD. The severity of ASD and socioeconomic status may influence the responses to exercise in terms of eye contact, attention deficit, and sleep disturbances.

Benefits of Physical Activity Programs

Physical activity programs have been identified as a powerful complementary therapy for children and adolescents with ASD, improving their symptoms and behavioral skills. Meta-analyses and systematic reviews have concluded that physical activity has positive effects on social skills and behavior in young children and adolescents with autism. Participation in physical activities contributes to the reduction of aggression behavior, stress levels, and behavioral problems in children with ASD, while also improving health, motor coordination, cardiovascular fitness, social behavior, communication skills, and quality of life [3].

By incorporating exercise into the lives of autistic children, parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals can help enhance their overall well-being and promote positive development. The benefits of regular physical activity extend beyond physical health, providing a holistic approach to managing ASD symptoms and improving the quality of life for these children.

Effective Exercises for Autistic Kids

Physical activity plays a crucial role in the overall well-being of autistic children. It not only promotes physical fitness but also offers numerous benefits for their social, emotional, and cognitive development. In this section, we will explore three effective exercises that have shown positive outcomes for autistic kids: martial arts and dance, group play and exergaming, and aquatic therapy.

Martial Arts and Dance

Martial arts and dance have been identified as particularly beneficial physical activities for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These activities have been shown to improve social involvement, behavior, communication skills, body awareness, and mental health. Engaging in martial arts or dance classes provides structured routines and opportunities for social interaction, helping autistic children develop discipline, self-confidence, and coordination.

Through martial arts, children can improve their motor skills, self-control, and attention span. Dance, on the other hand, enhances body coordination, rhythm, and self-expression. Both activities allow children to engage with peers, fostering social connections and a sense of belonging.

Group Play and Exergaming

Group play and exergaming (exercise gaming) are effective ways to engage autistic children in physical activities while promoting social interaction and communication skills. Physical activity programs designed for youth with autism have shown significant gains in social and communication skills [4]. These programs often include various types of group play, running/jogging programs, and exergaming.

Exergaming involves using technology-based games that require physical movement, such as dancing, boxing, or tennis. It combines the benefits of physical activity with the enjoyment of video games, making it an appealing option for autistic children. Exergaming can improve skill-related fitness, including balance, coordination, visual-motor control, and mobility skills [4].

Group play, such as team sports or cooperative games, provides opportunities for children to learn social skills, turn-taking, and cooperation. These activities can be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of autistic children, creating a supportive and inclusive environment.

Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy, also known as water therapy, has been shown to improve motor skills and functional performance in children with ASD. The buoyancy and resistance offered by water create a safe and supportive environment for children to develop their physical abilities.

In aquatic therapy, children engage in specific exercises and activities that target motor skills, coordination, and strength. The water's buoyancy reduces the impact on joints, making it an ideal option for children with physical limitations or sensory sensitivities. Additionally, the calming and sensory benefits of water can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

By incorporating martial arts and dance, group play and exergaming, and aquatic therapy into their routine, parents and caregivers can provide autistic children with enjoyable and beneficial physical activities. These exercises not only contribute to their physical fitness but also support their social, emotional, and cognitive development, fostering a holistic approach to their well-being.

Strategies to Encourage Exercise

Encouraging exercise and physical activity in autistic children is essential for their overall well-being and development. Here are some strategies that can help parents and caregivers support and motivate autistic kids to engage in regular exercise.

Parental Involvement

Parental involvement plays a crucial role in physical activity-based interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research shows that when parents actively participate and support their children's exercise routines, it leads to more positive outcomes and greater effectiveness.

Parents can act as role models by participating in exercise activities alongside their children. This not only provides a sense of companionship but also helps children with autism learn new activities. By joining in the exercise, parents can show their support and create a positive and encouraging environment.

Incorporating Preferences

One effective way to encourage autistic children to exercise is by taking their preferences into consideration when choosing physical activities. Each child may have different interests and abilities, so it's important to involve them in the decision-making process.

Parents can discuss exercise options with their children and consider activities that align with their interests. This could include activities like jogging, biking, swimming, dancing, yoga, or playing with a foam ball. By incorporating their preferences, children are more likely to enjoy the exercise and feel motivated to participate.

Family Shared Exercise

Involving the entire family in exercise activities can have numerous benefits for both the child with autism and the parent. Parents are encouraged to incorporate 30 minutes of daily shared exercise into the family's schedule. This not only promotes physical activity but also strengthens family bonds and creates opportunities for quality time together [6].

When parents join their children or loved ones with autism in exercise activities, they provide a positive role model for them. This can help children learn new activities and develop a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. Parents can use this time to engage in fun and interactive exercises that cater to the child's interests and abilities.

By implementing these strategies, parents and caregivers can create a supportive and motivating environment for autistic children to engage in regular exercise. Remember to tailor the activities to the child's preferences, involve the entire family, and provide encouragement and support throughout the exercise journey.

Motor Skill Development in Autistic Children

Motor skill development plays a crucial role in the overall development of autistic children. Autistic children often face challenges with posture, coordination, and motor planning [7]. Research has shown that they may experience delays or atypical motor patterns in both gross and fine motor skills. In a study by Johnson-Ecker and Parham in 2000, autistic children achieved lower scores in praxis tests compared to typically developing peers, indicating difficulties in conceptualizing, planning, and coordinating movements to carry out motor tasks.

Fine Motor Skills Importance

Fine motor skills are essential for daily activities such as grasping, threading, buttoning, dressing, using cutlery, and writing. These skills contribute to the overall independence and functionality of autistic children. Efficient fine motor skills require coordinated movements of the small muscles in the hands and fingers. Activities aimed at developing fine motor skills are crucial for the overall development of autistic children [7].

Core Stability and Motor Skills

Core stability plays a vital role in impacting various motor skills in autistic children. Core stability refers to the strength and control of the muscles in the abdomen, pelvis, and lower back. It is crucial for maintaining proper sitting posture, balance, and stamina. By improving core stability, it is possible to enhance overall motor skills development in autistic children.

Repetition in Motor Skill Development

Repetition is key when it comes to developing motor skills in autistic children. Consistent practice and repetition help in reinforcing neural connections and improving motor planning and execution. It is important to provide regular and short interventions to maintain engagement in the activity. With appropriate opportunities, patience, and strategies, autistic children can improve their motor skills, even if it may be challenging [7].

Developing motor skills in autistic children requires a tailored approach that addresses their specific challenges and needs. By focusing on fine motor skills, core stability, and incorporating repetition into interventions, it is possible to support and promote the motor development of autistic children, helping them thrive in their daily activities and overall well-being.


[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9813515/

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7642468/

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9351550/

[4]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/autism-exercise-benefits

[5]: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-017-3456-y

[6]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/can-exercise-improve-behavior-help-encouraging-child-who-has-autism

[7]: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/professional-practice/motor-skills-1