5 Sports to Make Your Autistic Child Happy

By Ishana Deb, Contributing Writer
September 26, 2016

Sports and physical activity form an important part of the holistic upbringing of a child. In addition to the numerous health benefits, regular participation in sports has a deep positive impact on the mental well-being of kids.

Autism and sports

Games and sports are rapidly gaining popularity as a medium of therapy for children with autism. Although the traditional forms of medicine and healing are still in use, more and more doctors are now prescribing participation in physical activities as a mode of adaptation and development.

Sports are extremely crucial in the light of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A widening shift towards a mechanized society, and in turn a sedentary lifestyle, has led to an increase in obesity and social anxiety among children with ASD.

A research study on “The Physical Activity Patterns of Children with Autism” published in the PubMed Central stated that the time spent by the children in vigorous physical activity after school was found to be only 17 minutes and 10 minutes for the age groups 9-11 years and 12-18 years, respectively. This data reveals the decrease in physical activity with age, which is a matter of concern especially for children with autism.

Benefits of playing with an autistic child

  • Body: Doctors recommend about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to people of all ages.

    For children with autism, exercise can help to increase cardiovascular capacity and muscle tone, thereby augmenting physical strength. Regular physical activity can also help to prevent obesity and related diseases, like diabetes.

  • Mind: Sports aid in the inculcation of values like team work, cooperation and camaraderie among the participants. Children with ASD often struggle with communication and social interaction.

A study published in the Neurology Research International on “Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Patterns of Participation in Daily Physical and Play Activities” reported that among children with autism of the median age of 9.5 years, only 12% were active and 88% did not indulge in any vigorous activity. Among those who reported being active, only 6% were found to be regularly involved in games.

Participation in team activities can help to slowly ease off feelings of anxiety and build confidence in kids.

Sports for an autistic child

Although popular team sports like baseball or football may not be suited to the needs of all children with autism, there are several activities that can help them gain self-confidence and happiness.

  • Swimming: One of the most physically demanding sporting activities in practice, swimming can do marvels for the development and well-being of your child. A regular routine of 60-minute classes, 3 to 5 days a week can help to maintain a good physique, build strength in the muscles as well as increase endurance.

Swimming offers a unique and favorable combination of few social communication requirements and maximum health benefits, ideal for a child with ASD just getting into sports.

Despite being a solo activity, swimming also introduces kids to coordination and team work while taking instructions from the coach and interacting with peers at team events. This kind of gradual introduction allows the child to grow comfortable and slowly perform up to his maximal potential.

  • Martial arts: Sporting activities like Karate, Judo, Taekwondo, and Tai chi are extremely promising for the growth of a child with autism Martial arts help to instill discipline, coordination and focus, qualities that are fundamental to the development of all people.
  • Understanding the instructions of the coach can itself pose a challenge for many children with autism. The repetition of a set of movements helps kids to understand the necessity of practice and discipline, which in turn has a positive impact on multiple facets of their lives.

    The predictability associated with regular practice reduces the pressure of performance which is a major reason child with autism avoid social interaction.

    • Horseback riding: Kids love animals and one of the best ways to introduce a child with ASD to a new activity is through the lure of a comfortable association. Horseback riding is very effective for improving body posture and muscle tone, which counts for a few of the key struggles for a child with autism.
    • Prior to enrolling your kid in a riding class, make sure that he is comfortable around the animals. Go on a family outing to the stables and allow your child to get used to being with the horses.

      If he shies away at first, encourage him to go forward a second time. You can even set an example by getting up on a horse yourself so that he sees it as a safe family activity.

      Sports for Autistic Child
    • Track and field: Perhaps one of the most effective therapeutic sports, track and field activities have helped millions around the globe achieve happiness through consistency. Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that improves the all-around growth of mind and body.
    • The prime selling point of track and field is the complete dependency on practice and technique. The individualistic nature of the sport helps kids with autism to gain confidence in their own abilities. Coordination poses a challenge that can be easily overcome with concentration.

    • Tennis: With sports therapy gaining popularity in the medical world, tennis has stolen the show as one of the best sports for a child with autism.
    • Tennis combines physical coordination, strength, posture and agility with the need for constant concentration, helping children improve in all of their problem areas. The sport is extremely effective owing to its step-by-step approach to learning and progress.

    • Social communication: Is also aided in group events, thus allowing the child to have complete control over his performance.

    Choosing a sports class for an autistic child

    The best approach to choosing a sports class for an autistic child is to make sure that he feels the least amount of pressure to perform and can grow at his own pace. Each child has unique interests and abilities that should be encouraged heartily by parents.

    Effective communication: One of the most formidable acts for a child with ASD is effective communication, and the challenge shoots up a hundred-fold during a team activity wherein they have to concentrate on physical coordination as well.

    Trial classes: Take your child to a trial class and try to gauge his level of interest in the activity. Ask him why he likes one sport and not the other; this will help you understand his interests. Many children also perform better with familiarity and practice, so do not give up if your kid does not seem to do well the first time. The key is to introduce him to as many new activities as possible and increase his pool of choice.

    Encouragement: The final step to success is to encourage your child! Allow him to understand that no matter how he performs, you are always proud of him.