Let’s Get Physical!
By: Casey Gregory, M.A., MT-BC, BCaBA
Senior Therapist and Upstate Lead Therapist Trainer
Childhood obesity continues to be a rising healthcare concern in our country. According to a research study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, nearly a third of children ages 2-19 are overweight or obese. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) interviewed parents through the National Health Interview Study found that 13 percent of typically developing adolescents are obese whereas almost 20 percent of children having intellectual abilities and more than 31 percent of children having autism are severely overweight.
Dietary limitations and medications leading to weight gain can play a part in this, but decreased activity is also a factor. Increasing physical activity can be a challenge for anyone, but for a child with autism, these challenges may be increased by lack of motivation, social avoidance, mobility limitations, and problematic behavior. Please talk to your behavior analyst, physician, or other professionals before making large changes; however, providing fun and frequent opportunities for physical activity can help.
Is there a physical activity your child already enjoys such as jumping on a trampoline, riding a bike or running? If your child feels comfortable performing a particular skill or activity, he/she will be more likely to engage in that activity more often and for longer periods of time. It is important parents do everything they can to ensure their child has time each day to engage in gross motor activity.
Incorporating other children in physical activity can also be a motivator because it can make exercise more fun! If your child avoids social interaction, or if sharing or other social skill limitations are a problem, talk to your Early Autism Project coordinator about developing programs to target these deficits and increase social engagement.
So, what if your child isn’t currently active? How do you get moving? Use your community resources, and be creative. Look at summer camps or day camps, contact your local YMCA, enroll your child in swimming lessons or yoga classes, contact the Special Olympics in your state regarding tailored sports programs or use the Couch-to-5K running plan to encourage your entire family to run together. In addition, taking day trips to a farm, interactive museum, or local zoo can be an entertaining form of physical activity. If staying at home is your best option, host a scavenger hunt at your house or in your neighborhood. If your child loves seeing themselves in pictures or on video, host a “dance-off” and record it.
The Obesity Society states that children who are overweight are 5 times more likely to be overweight as adults. Making small changes in your home and routine can provide opportunities for your child to take steps toward a healthier lifestyle.