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July 5, 2018

Effects of Physical Activity in Children with ASD

By: Regina Rachel Poniman, B.A. in Psychology


First things first, what is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disability, characterized by deficits in social communication skills and presence of restricted and repetitive behaviours. It is usually treated with a number of drugs that have been proved to improve several symptoms of the disorder. Psychosocial therapy that combines behavioural techniques and structured educational service is also highly effective.


However, there is good news! Recent research suggests that including physical exercise and activities as another form of treatment may be beneficial for children with ASD. Some activities include aerobic exercise, physical exercise, water exercise (swimming), and yoga.


Aerobic Exercise

One relatively easy exercise to do is jogging. The study was done by Mays and found that aerobic exercise was effective in reducing time spent for stereotypic behaviours immediately after jogging sessions.


Physical Exercise

In a research done by Toscano, Carvalho, and Ferreira in Brazil (2017), one session of physical exercise for 40 minutes twice a week is found to positively affect the metabolic profile, autism traits, and perceived quality of life in children with autism spectrum disorder.



One way to promote a total body exercise without putting much tension is aquatic activities. Chien-Yu Pan conducted a study in Taiwan to further understand the effects of water exercise swimming program (WESP) on behaviours of children with ASD. With two 90-minute sessions per week, successfully decreased the total antisocial behaviour problems in children with ASD.



Research was done by Maninderjit Kaur in 2016 in Delaware on the effects of yoga intervention towards communication and behavioural skills of children with ASD. With two sessions per week, children increased their response towards joint attention and reduced the frequency of maladaptive behaviours, including stereotypic, sensory, and non-compliance behaviours.


Overall, physical exercise and activity do produce positive changes in deficits of children with autism. This leads to a suggestion that physical fitness should be added to the general treatment of autism spectrum disorders to increase rates of improvements. Not only it will bring various physical and psychological health benefits (such as decreasing your risk for cardiovascular diseases, obesity, depression, and stress), it may improve the overall quality of life for children with ASD.



Kaur, M. (2016). Creative Yoga Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 55-97. Retrieved April 16, 2018.

Mays, M. N. (2013). Using Antecedent Aerobic Exercise to Decrease Stereotypic Behavior in Children with Autism. 34-65. Retrieved April 16, 2018.

Pan, C. (2010). Effects of water exercise swimming program on aquatic skills and social behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism,14(1), 9-28. doi:10.1177/1362361309339496

Toscano, C. V., Carvalho, H. M., & Ferreira, J. P. (2017). Exercise Effects for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Metabolic Health, Autistic Traits, and Quality of Life. Perceptual and Motor Skills,125(1), 126-146. doi:10.1177/0031512517743823