Okay, so I’m a dweeb: I love academic research. With that in mind, I was reading a relatively recent (2019) research study in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders entitled “Physical activity rates in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder compared to the general population” authored by Jean Gehricke (Assoc Prof @ Univ of CA, Irvine) et al.
Summary Of The Findings
In a nutshell (and I hope this is a fair snapshot), the findings from this research and many other related studies are:
- Exercise has many positive effects for people on the autism spectrum
- Many people on the spectrum do not get adequate exercise and in fact engage in much less than neurotypical peers
- There is a positive correlation between families with neurodiverse people who exercise and their quality of life
- There is an inverse relationship between physical activity / fitness and age (i.e., it gets worse as people get older)
- There are many complicating factors in all of the above.
My first reaction was, “Well, duh!” (Okay, the words that went through my head were more saucy than that… but this is a PG show, kids.)
In all sincerity, though, without quality research and the academics and practitioners behind it, we would not be advancing the field and gradually making changes to how we think and live.
More Complicated Than It Seems
So, I thought a bit more about it and started to reflect specifically on number 5: all those complications. Because that’s really where the issue lies for so many of us, right? What are those complications, those barriers that make it hard – sometimes impossible – to make exercise and healthy living in general a consistent part of our lives (Covid-19 notwithstanding.)
For me and Kristina – both avid exercisers – so much of it is about not enough time and not enough gas in the tank. And we KNOW exercise, eating well and overall wellness make us and Lucas feel so much more relaxed, focused and happy. Another factor is Lucas: What’s his mood, his level of attention, energy and interest, etc. And then there’s the fact that each day brings new and unexpected challenges as well as just your run-of-the-mill bullshit we have to deal with (oops, sorry… edged over into an R rating for a sec there.)
What Can We Do?
The research, as good and important as it is, generally reinforces what common sense already tells us. That this should be a priority, but it’s tough to do.
In our home and in our life, we are trying to model good behaviors for Lucas, to be examples of a healthy lifestyle that we hope he will absorb and adopt over time: exercising regularly, making good food choices, trying to stay emotionally balanced. But it IS tough.
What Solutions Have Worked For You?
I’m honestly interested in hearing what you do. If you’re reading this, you probably believe health and fitness are important for you and the neurodiverse loved ones in your life. What do you do to make what is academic a reality and integrate it into your life at home?
Please share your thoughts!
The photo at the top of this post is a pic of Lucas and his service dog Rory with Olympic Triathlete and really awesome guy, Hunter Kemper, after Lucas completed the MIT Kid’s Triathlon a couple years ago (Note that Rory also go her own medal, which was well-deserved!)
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