Our collective emotional wellbeing has been tested over the past 2 years. In my work as an NDIS provider, I have seen first-hand the emotional toll that lockdowns and the subsequent re-entry back into a chaotic world has had on families. It is no secret that exercise makes some people feel great and the science behind it, tells us of the myriad of benefits it has on our wellbeing. BUT, what if your children hate going outside, refuse to ride a bike or can’t cope with the demands of a mainstream group sporting activity? Instead of taking our families out to exercise, can we bring exercise back into our home for the sake of our children?
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore that we force upon our children. I am sure that for some of you the idea of encouraging your child to head outside for a long run or a bike ride may strike fear into your brain. That is ok, the purpose of this article is to suggest some of the ways that you can incorporate incidental exercise into your family’s routine and why exercise is considered beneficial to everyone’s mental and physical health.
If you are a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the mere title of this article may have you exhausted and doubtful. Images of you encouraging your child to come out for runs or bike rides may instil fear and trepidation into your mind. Please just bear with me while we open this discussion, it may offer you some realistic and practical ways that you can begin to introduce exercise into the daily life of your whole family.
Before we move on, let’s just brush up on the term evidence based practice (EBP). An EBP can be defined as an instructional strategy, intervention, or teaching program that is grounded in scientifically based research. Practitioners or teachers supporting individuals with ASD should use EBPs in support strategies.
Your first question is likely to be why? Why is exercise an EBP for individuals on the autism spectrum? Research indicates that exercise can be used to improve the physical fitness of learners with ASD plus bolster their opportunities for social engagement. In addition, exercise can be used to increase desired behaviours such as engagement in set tasks and improve fundamental motor skills which in turn offers individuals on the spectrum huge advantages for tasks they need in their day to day functioning such as getting dressed. Exercise has been found decrease challenging behaviours such as aggression and self-injury (1). While the list of benefits is long, none of that matters unless you can find a form of incidental or traditional exercise which your child is willing to try. I have mapped out ways that you can begin to introduce exercise into your family in a way that incorporates your child’s strengths and interests.
How and when can you add exercise into your family’s daily routines. I have stepped out a few ideas for you to think about. You can implement these ideas in your own space adapting them to suit the needs of your own family. Firstly, start small and utilise your child’s interests when you can. Here’s an example, my son loves singing, during the chorus of his songs we dance. Our heart rates fly and we get all the benefits of exercise without any unpleasant coercion. Secondly, try to build a routine around your exercise. Predictability may increase the likelihood that your child will anticipate and look forward to their particular exercise task, particularly if it is engaging and motivating for them. Thirdly, use techniques such as video modelling, which is another EBP whereby you video your child completing a set task. This offers your child an opportunity to visualise themselves taking part in the activity. Research indicates that video modelling is an EBP that can be more motivating and less threatening for children on the spectrum (2).
Exercise has been essential in maintaining my family’s emotional and physical well being. We dance when we can, we do crawling races to the shower, we have running races to the freezer for icecreams. This all occurs within our family home! I
1.Dillon, S. R., Adams, D., Goudy, L., Bittner, M., & McNamara, S. (2017). Evaluating Exercise as Evidence-Based Practice for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in public health, 4, 290. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2016.00290
2. Video-modelling and autism | Raising Children Network