AUTSIM: Reaching your full potential with exercise

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition we, as allied health professionals, are starting to learn more and more about all the time. The technical description of Autism is a “neurodevelopmental syndrome where significant deficits are present in communication and social reciprocity” (1). This essentially means that individual’s with Autism, have difficulties with communicating and interacting socially. Additionally, Autism populations can also show characteristics such as repetitive behaviours and restrictive interests (2). We knew that in 2015, there were 164,000 Australians diagnosed with Autism (3). It is important to note however that no two individuals with Autism are the same. Autism can be classified as either mild, moderate or severe and while there is no cure for Autism, there are many different therapies that can help people achieve their full potential! One type of therapy which we know is significantly beneficial for this type of disability is exercise therapy. Find out below why!

Research has shown that Autism populations have reduced levels of engagement in Physical Activity or Exercise compared to non-Autistic populations, and this is particularly greater in older people with Autism. Now this can be due to a few things such as high costs, inability to be socially included or even the lack of opportunity (4). As a result of reduced exercise participation, this can lead to other secondary conditions, some including obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and mental illness. We also know that Autistic populations have greater levels of screen time, meaning they spend longer periods of time sitting with a screen such as a TV, iPad or computer, than non-Autistic populations which again increases the risk of developing secondary health conditions. So why is exercise beneficial for Autism? How does it help with any of the points that have been mentioned above?

Below is a small list of the benefits that exercise can have individual’s with Autism:

  • Promotes healthy weight ranges therefore reducing the risk of being overweight or obese

  • Improves heart health and metabolic health

  • Improves cardiovascular fitness

  • Improves muscle strength, endurance and power

  • Improves cognitive, motor, social and behavioural impairments

  • Decreases self-stimulating and stereotypical behaviours

  • REDUCES THE RISK OF DEVELOPING SECONDARY CHRONIC DISEASES (heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes etc.)

We know that exercise is a powerful tool to help improve many disabilities and Autism is no exception. There are many different areas that exercise can be beneficial for, including both physically, mentally and cognitively. Although exercise guidelines for Autism do not differ greatly from non-Autistic populations, exercise should be performed under the supervision of a professional. This type of professional is called an Exercise Physiologist (EP). EP’s are University accredited allied health professionals that specialise in exercise treatment for chronic conditions, including Autism. They have a deep understanding on how exercise will be beneficial to the individual and have fantastic knowledge about specific considerations associated with Autism and how this can vary from one person to another. Exercise Physiologist’s will not only ensure that exercise is tailored specifically for the individual but will ensure the safety of every individual who engages in exercise.  

Here at Aevum Physiotherapy, we have two Exercise Physiologist’s, both of whom have a great deal of experience working with disabilities including Autism. Aevum is also the largest NDIS provider in the Sutherland Shire and St George area, catering for various disabilities. Our clinics are also set up with the latest equipment and technologies, assisting every individual to reach their full potential. 

If you would to like to learn more about how Exercise Physiology can assist with Autism, book in with us here at Aevum Physiotherapy. As the leading NDIS provider in the Sutherland Shire area, we will work alongside you to help achieve your goals and assist with all your needs. Call 02 8544 3231 to find out more!


References:

  • Lord, C., Cook, E. H., Leventhal, B. L., & Amaral, D. G. (2013). Autism spectrum disorders. Autism: The Science of Mental Health, 28(2), 217.

  • Christensen, D. L., Braun, K. V. N., Baio, J., Bilder, D., Charles, J., Constantino, J. N., ... & Lee, L. C. (2018). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years—autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 65(13), 1.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, "Autism in Australia", Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4430.0Main%20Features752015.

  • Healy, S., Nacario, A., Braithwaite, R. E., & Hopper, C. (2018). The effect of physical activity interventions on youth with autism spectrum disorder: A meta‐analysis. Autism Research, 11(6), 818-833.