Connect Kids Who Have Autism or ADHD with FUN Exercise

Posted 01/30/2017 | By HealthCorps

According to a small study, the key to getting young people with disorders like autism and attention deficit to exercise is to make it fun.  

Since kids with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders benefit from physical activity, it’s important to find ways to get them engaged with fitness.  The researchers suggest that “having fun” was a single indicator of how likely a young adult would engage with exercise and also stick with it.  Another helpful variable is to find activities that “they are good at,” since excelling in a fitness pursuit is likely to keep someone with autism or ADHD engaged.   So if they excel in a particular position in a team sport like basketball or soccer, or if they’re really good at an individual sport like tennis or swimming, they will likely stick with it and remain active.  “Lack of skill” is more apt to derail interest than lack of transportation or financial limitations.  Fun is the main key to exercise commitment in this case.

The mean age of the young adults in the study was seventeen and a half years and most of the subjects were male.  The primary conditions diagnosed in the group were autism, intellectual disability, ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome.  The adults they lived with or that cared for them were queried on a number of topics and issues associated with the particular condition and successful engagement (or not) with exercise.  The lead researcher, Matthew Lustig, a senior medical student at the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership in Athens, acknowledged that exercise has clearly been shown in many studies to have both cognitive and weight loss/balance benefits in overweight kids.   Findings from this study (which queried adults) who cared for or lived with the subjects included:

  • Internet, family and friends were the go-to sources for exercise information.
  • The adults would prefer that doctors involved in the care of these young adults would (have the time to) answer exercise and fitness questions.
  • Most respondents felt that exercise would help to prevent or delay complications associated with the neurodegenerative disorders.
  • Most respondents felt that regular exercise activities would provide short term and long term benefits in terms of physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

Unfortunately, researchers in the study acknowledge that most clinicians spend an average of ten minutes on a sick visit and twenty minutes for a regular checkup, so having a deep conversation about exercise, especially when a neurodegenerative condition is present, is too challenging.  The study clearly suggests that allowing time for a caretaker or parent to discuss the exercise needs of their charge with the primary care physician would be optimal and would have a positive health impact in the long term.  

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