Are Young Children with ASD More or Less Active than their Peers?
As it turns out, young children with autism engage in about the same amount of physical activity as their peers!
What do we know about children with autism and physical activity?
Physical activity is important for children’s health and development. The benefits include a lower risk of obesity, lower risk of diabetes, and improved quality of life. Past research has shown that teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less likely than their peers to engage in physical activity. However, there has been limited research on physical activity of young children with ASD.
What did the researcher’s study?
This study compared the physical activity of 4-7 years olds with and without ASD in Australia. The children wore a device for eight straight days that measured when they doing physical activity. The parents of each child also filled out surveys that asked information about the child and the family. The questions included asking about the child’s sleep.
What did the researcher’s find?
The results showed that young children with ASD participated in the same amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity as their peers.
The researchers also looked at child factors to see if there were any differences. Children with ASD who had an intellectual disability had similar levels of physical activity than children with ASD without an intellectual disability. Children with ASD with reported sleep problems did less physical activity than children with ASD without sleep problems. The researchers also found that family factors such as looking after siblings, rules about not being able to play outside unsupervised, and availability of suitable neighborhood playgrounds impacted children with ASD’s physical activity levels.
One limitation of this study was that the children had to tolerate wearing the device in order to participate. Some of the participants from both groups were excluded because the children did not wear the device the whole time.
Why is this important?
Young children with ASD want to participate in physical activity just like their peers. Since teenagers with ASD engage in less physical activity, it may help to promote these skills early in your child’s life.
Thomas, S., Hinkley, T., Barnett, L. M., May, T., & Rinehart, N. (2019). Young Children with ASD Participate in the Same Level of Physical Activity as Children Without ASD: Implications for Early Intervention to Maintain Good Health. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04026-9