Do Nurses Recommend Physical Activity to People with Autism Spectrum Disorder?


According to the Autism Society, about 1 percent of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder, and the figure increases 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 don’t have the same opportunities as their peers, and this includes the chance to be physically active. The barriers are disappointing, especially considering the social, psychological, and physical benefits associated with being active on a regular basis.

Recently, Sarah Tiner, a student researcher at Texas A&M University’s Laboratory for Diversity in Sport, conducted a study to examine this topic in more depth. 

She collected data from nurses in the US, with the thinking that healthcare providers might be among the best people to promote an active lifestyle. She found that nurses regularly interacted with people with autism spectrum disorder. However, they were only moderately likely to recommend physical activity. 

She then explored what might prompt their decision to do so. Nurses in her study identified a number of barriers to people being active. Some were specific to the patient, some related to interpersonal interactions, and still others focused on community constraints. But, none of these barriers impacted the nurses’ decisions to recommend physical activity. 

On the other hand, the nurses also identified a number of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional benefits of regular physical activity for people with autism spectrum disorder. The stronger they held these beliefs, the more likely they were to recommend physical activity to their patients.

These findings suggest that nurses can play a key role in promoting an active lifestyle for people with autism spectrum disorder. It is also important for schools and continuing education courses to highlight the benefits of being active, thereby equipping nurses with the knowledge they need to make such recommendations.