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Autistic Children Exercise the Least Among the Disorders

Autistic Children Exercise the Least Among the Disorders

Obesity is all too common in the current generations, whether we speak of those with autism, ADHD or your average teenager. Too much time out of our lives is spent in front of a television, a computer screen, sitting in an office or cooped away in a classroom, with little chance of moving about, running, walking, or simply stretching our legs. Our diets are riddled with carbs, fats and sugars, full of chemicals and without enough necessary nutrients. We lack activity and add to our calories, ending up weighing much more than we ought to at our age or for our heights.

Autistic children are no less of a concern in this sense. On the contrary, it seems they are at higher risk of reaching a state of obesity. Autism in itself is an interesting disorder. It is described quite simply as the hyperactivity within neurons in the brain, which relay too many messages and not always to the right places. The product of this mismatched brain structure is an individual in whom behaviors can be unexpected, self-stimulation might be a necessity and expressing emotions properly might be extremely difficult. It is linked to genetics, but also greatly accentuated by environmental factors, such as pollution, and certain conditions during pregnancy, including unexpected immense weight gain.

Exercise and Autism
Adults who suffer from psychiatric disorders report low levels of physical activity and the activity levels differ between disorders. According to a Norwegian study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, approximately 50% of adolescents with psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, OCD, autism, and others, while 25% of the population sample, reported low levels of physical activity. Now, whether or not this is a bad thing is not as important as an autistic child's absolute need for constant movement to develop essential skills.

The study looked at nearly 9,000 Norwegian teenagers, including 566 with a psychiatric disorder, who answered questions about their physical activity levels. What shocked researchers was that over half of those with a disorder exercised only once or less per week. Of the 39 teenagers with autism, 22 (56%) fall into that category, while only 3 exercised regularly over three times a week. It was found that those with mood disorders (62%) and autism spectrum disorders (56%) were the most inactive, while those with eating disorders (36%) were most definitely the most active.

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Other findings include:

  • Nearly 20% of toddlers with autism are obese
  • Only 19% of the teenagers with autism compete in sports
  • Children with autism are twice as likely as their peers to spend most of their free time in front of a television or computer
  • Girls are less active than boys in team sports and more so in individual variations

Another sad reality is that only seven, or 19%, of the teenagers with autism compete in such sports as soccer or basketball, compared with 25% of teenagers with mood disorders, 33% with anxiety disorders, 37% with ADHD and 60% of the controls. Between motor problems and inadequate social skills, it is not so strange that 55% of those with autism and nearly 70% of teenagers with ADHD are active in some kind of solitary sport instead.

Sports for Communication in Autism
Motor skill are directly correlated with one’s ability to move seamlessly in social circles, make friends, understand facial cues and other body language, according to an Oregon study looking at 233 children ages 14-49 months. A similar study was conducted not long after with 35 children ages 6 to 15, with similar results. Those who can walk, talk, sit, run, play and move about normally have fewer communication and social problems than those who lack in motor skills. As such, the lack of exercise that autistic children partake in only serves to make life more difficult, as well as feeding into the rising obesity levels in the world.

Exercise promotes a healthy weight and strong bones, reduces stress, and improves cardiovascular function. It hones motor skills and gives children the confidence to compete, in turn helping self-esteem and general social coordination. All this is most important for autistic children, who are likely to be left out, ridiculed and feel incompetent when their motor abilities are not up to par with their peers.

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