The Causes To Low Physical Activity Participation Of Children With Autism
Children with Autism
The causes to low physical activity participation of
children with autism
With more and more children diagnosed with autism, the need for more
specialists to service them is in obvious demand. Autism spectrum disorder is known as a
form of neurodevelopmental disorder, specifically dealing with psychological,
sociological, and behavioural issues (Tasman, 2004). Children with autism will
experience challenges in areas of communication and social interaction, as well as having
restricted interest and have stereotyped repetitive behaviours (Rosser, Sandt & Frey,
2005). These behaviours could include repetitive motor mannerism such as finger
flicking and whole body rocking (Tasman, 2004). They may also develop challenging
behaviour such as screaming, hitting, and biting, as well creating substantial obstacles for
specialists such as adapted physical educators who attempt to correct any changes seen
(Crollick, Mancil, & Stropka, 2006). Such characteristics in addition to the lack of the
sharing of enjoyment, interests, and enjoyments greatly affects their efficiency in motor
learning and increases the difficulty participating in group activities (Tasman, 2004).
Many children with autism who experience much difficulty conforming proper motor
skills required for a physical activity and the inability to read body language will
experience frustration, thus often chooses to disengage and withdrew from the activity
with revulsion. From years of research, physical educators began to realize the
seriousness of such issue in which these children could be at health risk as a result of
physically inactive (Pan & Frey, 2005). Physical educators then began to implement
innovative ideas and strategies combined into intervention programs in attempt to
examine the significance and effectiveness of programs. One of the primary focuses of
these programs is to develop better motor skills and social skills, in specific, visual cues
and the ability to identify body language effectively in purpose to decrease stereotypic
behaviour, hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness (Crollick, Mancil, &
Stropka, 2006). By improving these skills, Todd & Reid (2008) suggested that increased
in physical activity participation should be evident.
Learning a motor skill for a physical activity is problematic for children with
autism. The inability to communicate with the environment is one factor that affects them
in performance and motor skill learning. Evidence from previous research shows gross
motor movements such as walking and fine motor skills such as picking up small objects
are affected (Glazebrook et al., 2006; Molloy, Dietrich, & Bhattacharya, 2003). Schmitz,
Martineau, Barthlemy, and Assaiante (2003) in their study, acknowledged that children
with autism do have difficulty organizing actions towards a goal. Glazebrook et al.
(2006) also showed similar results in which they examined how individuals with autism
experience motor learning difficulties, and that motor skills and performance are atypical
when performing rapid manual aiming movements. Deborah, Cantell, & Crawford (2006)
used Bruininks-Osertsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOTMP), although the criteria of
BOTMP were not met, to assess the gross and fine motor functioning of children with
autism reinforces Glazebrook et al. research finding, showing results indicating motor
impairments, as well, deficits in performance of gesture. Jansiewicz, Newschaffer, Landa,
Goldberg, Denckla, and Mostofsky (2006) also displayed results concerning boys with
autism having greater difficulty in balance, performed at a slower speed, and struggles
with complex movements.
This continuous of struggle in learning a motor skill and engaging in group
activities in children with autism is the nature of the disorder, but it’s not the main cause
to low physical activity participation rate. One of the causes is the limited services
society provided failing to adequately ensure these children that their needs are fully
taken into account (Connelly, 2008). They are often treated unfairly and are
disadvantaged in educational and recreational opportunities in contemporary society
(Dyson, 1997; Pan & Frey, 2006). From research findings, the primary cause to these
children with minimal physical activity is opportunity (Reid, 2005). Pan & Frey (2006)
also acknowledged from Rosser’s doctoral thesis that there are simply not enough
appropriate programs, in such, integrated and segregated extracurricular programs for
these children are lacking. Lack of social acceptance and support limits their opportunity
to access public resources such as community and educational settings that are used for
physical activity purposes (Pan & Frey, 2006). Despite the lack of opportunities,
however, Rosser & Frey (2005) observed higher physical activity participation rate in
children with autism in recess time during school. During this free time, these children
have the opportunity to access and play on playground equipments of their choice, and
engage in activities that were unstructured and/or that require little social interaction. But
time was limited due to early evacuation to prevent traffic with the incoming of sudden
influx of students. Reid (2005) then further suggested the need to understand the
relationship between the quality uses of recess time and the increased opportunity of
physical activity participation rate for these children. Regrettably, recess time usually
lasts only for about fifteen minutes, although it could be one possible solution to
inactivity, but can act only as a temporary solution. Fifteen minutes has not reached the
standards of thirty minutes minimum of vigorous activities established by Public Health
Agencies of Canada (PHAC, 2002). Physical activity is just an important element in the
life of children and youth regardless of disorders they may have (QUOTE).
Pan and Frey (2006) pointed out the influence and importance of engaging in
physical activity such that, it is especially crucial for children with autism when more
personal spaces and specialized caring are needed, therefore the delivery of quality
instructions given by qualified instructors and the testing of effectiveness of intervention
programs are necessary. Sandt (2008) reinforces Pan and Frey that the continuous process
of using new strategies and intervention to help these children become physically
educated is important. Reid (2005) suggested the use of peer tutors, social stories, and
stations to maximize time spent in PE classes, as well, a one-to-one ratio. Sandt (2008)
continue on Reid’s social story strategy and developed a three step model which consist
of – plan, develop, and implement. Despite the splendid model, if the quality of instructor
is and/or not certified as a specialist to service this population, it is still only a theory.
This will greatly affects parent’s faith placed on these programs and their reliance of
instructors. One suggestion is to develop national certification standards similar to those
CPR-C and First Aid, to ensure the quality of instructors servicing children and youth
with autism. In specific, instructors do not only imply adapted physical educators, but to
all potential instructors such as volunteers, social workers, kinesiologists, health
specialists, those willing to take the responsibility of providing such services. To Increase
programs for autistic children and youth, intervention program is needed but without
qualified and certified instructors, the issue of physical activity programs for children
with autism will persist.
Some other factors that could limit children with autism from participating
physical activity is geographical location, school, and community commitments. Other
possible issues could be due to parent’s lack of funding to provide transportation, so
financial assistance is definitely a need. School and/or recreational agencies could setup
possible funding specifically for the parents of an autistic child. In Canada specifically,
the government is increasing the awareness of autism, allocating more funding for
research and recreational agencies focusing on autism spectrum disorders (TSSCSST,
2007). This funding could provide more opportunities to promote future research
focusing on measuring quality physical activity on children and youth with ASD Reid
suggested (Reid, 2005).
Increasing Physical Activity has always been viewed as a primary phenomenon in
improving overall health. But many researches have overlooked the influences of
physical activity in the special population group. Therefore, it is extremely important for
community recreation agencies, schools, and parents to continuously cooperate, identify
needs and evaluate options for developing programs that include effective support (Reid,
The purpose of this study was to address the needs of children with autism by
identifying several areas where progress of the increase of participation physical activity
can be made in improving the intervention programs offered, provide transportations and
funding, as well, improve instructor’s qualification. The study also sought explanation as
to why children with autism are considered to have low physical activity participation.
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