Exercise Improves Behavior and Academic Performance for Students with Autism and Behavioral Challenges
Research continues to show that exercise may be a key component to a successful academic program for students with autism and behavioral disorders. Participating in daily aerobic exercise will not only help your students physically, but can improve their academic performance as well.
A recent study found that kids who participated in a daily “cyber cycling” program had significantly less problem behaviors than those who attended a standard twice weekly PE class. Students with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and mood disorders who exercised daily exhibited as much as 70 percent fewer disruptive behaviors. (1)
However, the benefits of exercise don’t stop there. Further research and anecdotal evidence is showing that sports and other physical activity can,not only make people on the spectrum healthier, but also decrease self-stimulatory behavior, increase academic performance, and increase on task behavior.
One small study of five adolescent men with autism reported “a significant decrease in self-stimulatory behavior following the physical exercise.” Furthermore, the study compared academic performance and on task behavior before and after exercising and found all students performed better after exercising. (6) Another study incorporating daily exercise on a treadmill also reported similar findings. (4) These findings have been replicated with younger children as well. (3)
The benefits of physical exercise are clear. However, there are challenges to providing consistent exercise opportunities at home and school for people on the spectrum. A 2015 study of 83 children found that only 10 (12%) of the ASD children were physically active. The rest preferred solitary play. Financial concerns, lack of opportunities, and sociodemographic factors limited the amount of exercise kids on the spectrum had available to them.(2)
With this in mind, here are a few suggestions to help you create positive aerobic exercise opportunities for this population:
- Offer exercise opportunities that require few social demands.
- Offer activities that require fewer people to participate.
- Offer activities that can easily continue into adulthood with less reliance on others.
- Rhythmic or repetitive activities tend to be well received.(5)
So what are some good options? Successful exercise programs have included swimming, stationary bike riding, martial arts, yoga, and structured PE programs. Opportunities to play video games that include aerobic workouts such as rhythmic dancing or cyber cycling (1) can also be very enjoyable.
For more exercise options check out our Gross Motor and Balance products.
(1)Bowling, April, et al. "Cybercycling Effects on Classroom Behavior in Children With Behavioral Health Disorders: An RCT."Pediatrics (2017): e20161985.
(2)Memari, Amir Hossein, et al. "Children with autism spectrum disorder and patterns of participation in daily physical and play activities."Neurology research international 2015 (2015).
(3)Oriel, Kathryn N., et al. "The effects of aerobic exercise on academic engagement in young children with autism spectrum disorder."Pediatric Physical Therapy 23.2 (2011): 187-193.
(4)Pitetti, Kenneth H., et al. "The efficacy of a 9-month treadmill walking program on the exercise capacity and weight reduction for adolescents with severe autism."Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37.6 (2007): 997-1006.
(5)Pleban, Francis T., David Barney, and Renae Burke. "PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS: CONSIDERATIONS FOR EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM ADMINISTRATI ON."Central European Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine 5.1 (2014): 15-26.
(6)Rosenthal-Malek, Andrea, and Stella Mitchell. "Brief report: The effects of exercise on the self-stimulatory behaviors and positive responding of adolescents with autism."Journal of autism and developmental disorders 27.2 (1997): 193-202.
Today, more than ever, educators are faced with teaching core subjects for longer periods to prepare the class to master state standards. This requires the students to sit at their desks for long periods, and they may lose focus. Many students may have challenges with sustained sitting and have a sensory need for [...]
Auditory processing is a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Humans hear when energy that we recognize as sound travels through the ear and is changed into electrical information that can be interpreted by the brain. The “disorder” part of auditory processing disorder means that [...]
One of the wonderful parts of the holidays is an opportunity for family members to come together and visit. For family members with autism, this can be an enjoyable time, but also very stressful. If you will be having a family member on the autism spectrum visiting soon, there are a few practical things you [...]
As an Occupational Therapist I am very aware of the common misconception on the internet and elsewhere regarding what the appropriate weight is for a weighted blanket. Most people recommend 10% of a person's body weight but research and experience suggests closer to 20%. For a very long time there was no research done on weighted [...]
Kids chewing on their clothes, hair or fingers is a common issue that parents and teachers have seen in students with autism, ADHD and sensory issues. There can be several reasons why a kid is chewing. If you are a concerned parent make sure to talk to your child's doctor to rule out any possible [...]
By: Beth Aune, OTR/L, Beth Burt & Peter GennaroToday, more than ever, educators are faced with teaching core subjects for longer periods to prepare the class to master state standards. This requires the students to sit at their desks for long periods, and they may lose focus. Many students may have challenges with sustained sitting [...]
Sitting down to write is a fairly simple task. Pick up a pencil or pen and write, right? For the child with special needs writing may not be so simple. Stop and think about the components of good writing skills.Good sitting posture (upper body stability)Shoulder stability (for control of the arm/hand)Appropriate grasp pattern on the [...]
Halloween is 27 days away. We would like to provide tips for preparing your autistic child for trick or treating. We hope you find these helpful. Trick or Treating Tips Trick or treating is exciting no kid wants to stop getting free candy. Create a schedule ahead of time for your autistic child. Decide how long [...]
There are now several studies that have shown students, including those with ADHD and other special needs, focus better in the classroom when they are allowed some movement. One way kids can move while focusing is to sit on items like a therapy ball, Disc o Sit or wedge. We are often asked by teachers and [...]
National Autism Resources Blog
- Exercise Improves Behavior and Academic Performance for Students with Autism and Behavioral Challenges
- Behavior Solutions for Students Who Won’t Keep Seated
- Auditory Processing Strategies for the Classroom
- Tips for a Great Holiday Visit with Autistic Family Members
- How Much Weight Should Your Weighted Blanket Have?