Regular physical activity is important for all children. But for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), promoting exercise as part of their daily routine is critical. These kids often prefer solitary activities that involve little physical exercise, which increases their risk for being overweight.
Why kids with autism need physical activity
Recent studies indicate that nearly half of all children with autism are overweight or obese. This puts them at risk for health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Children with autism may gain weight because they have:
- Less opportunity for active play with peers
- Greater interest in sedentary activities
- Strong preferences for snacks foods over fruits and vegetables
How you can help motivate your child
Even with these barriers to overcome, you can still help your child with autism be more active. Try these steps:
- Identify the activities your child enjoys, such as jumping on a trampoline, swimming or riding a bicycle. Work toward increasing the time available for these activities.
- Determine the length of time your child participates in these activities and set small goals to increase that time. Start with just a few more minutes spent on each activity or by adding one other opportunity during the week when your child can participate.
- Limit screen time. While tablets, computers and television might be useful in small amounts for learning opportunities or as rewards, too much screen time can take away from time spent in active play.
If your child does not already exercise, you may want to provide some opportunities for her to try out some new activities. If your child doesn’t seem interested in those activities, even walking with a parent around a neighborhood, at a park or inside a mall can be excellent exercise.
Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for children with autism. If you have concerns about your child’s weight or health status, consult your pediatrician. A specialist in weight management can provide medical guidance related to getting active and maintaining a healthy weight.
If your child is overweight, you can also enroll in our treatment study for additional support.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.