Sport, Physical Activity, and Autism Spectrum Disorder

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According to the Autism Society, about 1 percent of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder, and the figure increase to 1 in 68 in the US. To put into context, that comes to about 3.5 million Americans.

Despite their prevalence in society, people with autism spectrum disorder sometimes do not have the same opportunities as their peers, and this includes the chance to be physically active. The limited opportunities are disappointing, especially considering the social, psychological, and physical benefits associated with being active on a regular basis.

Michelle Sowa and Ruud Meulenbroek, both from Radboud University in The Netherlands, examined the topic further, considering how physical activity affects people with autism spectrum disorder. They pulled together other studies on the topic and statistically aggregated the results—a process called meta-analysis.

They found that physical activity programs yielded positive gains for both motor skills and social skills.

The authors also examined potential differences based on how the programs were delivered. Individually-focused exercise programs, as opposed to group-based activities, resulted in the best gains. The benefits accrued for both motor performance and social interactions. Finally, the research team found that exercise benefited both youth and adults.

Given these findings, a logical question is: what sports are best for people with autism spectrum disorder? The research team found that all types of physical activity proved helpful. Other sources, such as those at the website Very Well Health, advocate for a number of sports, including bowling, swimming, and track and field. Whatever the activity, the key is to move and be active—there are many benefits associated with doing so.