Being active is important for any child but for a child with autism it’s particularly important. Many children with autism rely on adults in their life to transport them to school, clubs and other places. The option of walking or cycling, that many children benefit from on a daily basis, often isn't there for a range of reasons.
Not only does exercise improve physical well being, it’s also a great way to boost mental health, increase self-confidence and open up other social opportunities.
As a parent you can promote physical activity at a level suitable for your child and your own circumstances. Below you'll find some ideas to help your child keep active, from involvement in professional coaching to things you can try in your own back garden or local park. There are also plenty of opportunities to get the whole family involved.
Keep it simple
You can start with simple activities which encourage your child to spend time outdoors and offer opportunities for lots of positive sensory stimulation from water play- a paddling pool or even just a garden hose- to sand and ball pits. The great thing about these activities is they work on multiple levels and transcend any language or communication difficulties your child may have. They can also be enjoyed alone or with others.
Simple ball games promote physical activity but also turn taking, sharing and rule acquisition.
Garden toys like swings, slides and climbing frames also offer strong sensory components as well as promoting physical activity. They can also be repurposed for more sedate uses- add a few sheets or blankets and pillows and a swing or climbing frame makes a great den. Even if your child isn't burning off energy, they're still benefiting from some fresh air!
Many of these activities don't require expensive or specialised equipment or can be sourced second-hand (eBay, community Facebook groups etc.) and can be used by siblings and friends too.
Remember that some equipment- particularly climbing frames and trampolines- need a degree of adult supervision. This is particularly the case for children with poor motor control or for those lacking a sense of personal safety.
Outside of the home environment going for a walk or a recreational cycle as a family can be a great way to keep fit. It can also help to develop other areas like road safety, dealing with sensory issues and a host of other life skills.
What’s in your area?
If you're limited by commitments to work, other family members or your own physical abilities your child's school may offer extra-curricular activities they can join in with. Local charities may also offer sport and game-based activities outside of school term times.
If your child has an interest in sport- even from the perspective of a supporter rather than a participant- you can harness this interest as a tool to promote more active engagement. Many professional sports clubs- particularly football clubs- have charitable foundations which offer community programmes, including for children and young people with a range of disabilities, including autism.
Best of all if, as a parent, you feel you could benefit from a little more physical exercise, they offer activities for adults too!
Check with your local football, rugby or sports club for what they offer to communities. Just for example, professional football clubs like Newcastle United, Chelsea and Fulham offer sessions for children and young people of all abilities via their charitable foundations.
If you have a local sports club who'd like to offer opportunities for children with autism, there are also resources out there that you can point them towards for help and advice.