When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are rightly concerned. Autism should not exclude anyone from participation in sports and in fact exercise and fitness should be encouraged as a form of therapy.
Autism is a group of developmental disorders now referred to as “autism spectrum disorders.” The range of symptoms varies greatly but the common element is difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
The causes of autism are highly controversial and diverse. Genetic causes along with environmental factors are currently being investigated. Complications during childbirth may also play a role.
Since the range of symptoms is so broad, no single treatment is effective for everyone. Medication has not been proven to play a major role. Most treatment plans include educational, creative and dietary therapies.
Sports play a role in treating autism by emphasizing coordination and body awareness. Dedication to improving a particular athletic skill will also increase confidence and support other therapies.
Team sports are generally not recommended because participation relies so heavily on communication with teammates. The best sports for children with autism include:
• Track and Field. Running and throwing are very basic activities that require little verbal skill.
• Swimming. The symmetry and the swim stroke improve body awareness. Propelling through the water is among the most soothing activities from the standpoint of sound and tactile sensation. A competitive element can be easily introduced if desired.
• Horseback Riding. This is perfect for children who may have associated motor deficits prohibiting them from other sports.
• Basketball. The repetitive act of shooting baskets is an activity with immediate gratification. Individual shooting games like “H-0-R-S-E” or “Around the World” provide fun competition.
• Martial Arts. An outstanding way to improve balance and coordination.
Most importantly, when choosing an athletic activity for a child with autism, make sure it’s fun.