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Unless one of your child’s special interests is exercise, you might be left worried about how to keep them healthy. Although it can be challenging to find the right solution for you and your child, there are a few things you can start with…
Very few of us enjoy slogging on a treadmill; but for an autistic child, formal physical activities can be even more dull, while getting them to join a team sport can be near impossible.
You’ve already got a million things to do, so it can be really tempting to put the thought at the back of your mind, but for children on the autism spectrum getting enough exercise is even more important. Recent research has shown they are more likely to be overweight, particularly when they are taking medicines to help control their behaviour.
- If you’re into the details of the research,in one US study of 5,000 children with autism, 16% were found to be obese (vs 10% in the general population) –Medication, poor eating habits and less physical exercise were all associated with weight increase
So exercising is really important. But where do you start?
If you’re lucky, you might be able to find an exercise class for autistic children near you, which would be a-m-a-z-i-n-g! But let’s face it, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Things to consider when you’re looking for exercise ideas for your child
#1. Many children with autism can struggle with motor skills.
It is something you probably know already, as you might have noticed that your child takes a bit longer to learn some of the things their siblings or other children have picked up quicker. Rather than being an issue, it’s actually even more of a reason to get them exercising, especially since physical exercise can help improve motor skills (a study suggest by 35%!).
He, or she, might take a little longer, but it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy themselves.
#2. Be willing to try different things.
Every sport, every activity is different. Individual, vigorous exercise has more of an impact on the body than group or mild exercises. Social and group exercise can be more fun and help with socialising. Some types of sports require repetition – which might be good for your child. Others, require attention to detail.
Think about what your child enjoys and, like for every child, you might have to try a few things. When making choices, children with autism tend to be offered fewer options. This is often based on the assumption that they would not like something new or different. But if you don’t try you will never find out.
#3. Write a list of what your child struggles with and check every new idea against it.
Think about what would be a struggle for your child. Loud noises? Unpredictable routines? Switching between exercises too quickly? Make a list.
Once you have that list, you can use it to easily exclude any type of physical activity that wouldn’t be suitable.
#4. Connect the exercise to the real world.
If you’re thinking of creating an exercise routine yourself, you might find that your child finds easier a workout plan that is connected to movements they see in the real world.
#5. Being ‘healthy’ is not just about exercise.
With some children, you’ll never find the perfect solution.
Health isn’t just a number on a scale.. We can get so caught up with counting calories, that we can also forget that having a happy child is also important.
Parenting is all about trying your best to give your child what they need. Trying and failing is part of the journey.
Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of three. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.