Play Habits of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less physically active and play alone more than with other children, and the amount of physical activity is associated with socioeconomic status.

Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are less physically active and play alone more than with other children, and the amount of physical activity is associated with socioeconomic status. Amir Hossein Memari, MD, of the Neuroscience Instituted, Sports Medicine Research Center at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, and colleagues studied the daily activities of 83 children with ASD between the ages of 6 and 15 years. The results of their study are published in Neurology Research International.

Motor development and behavioral impairments are often hallmarks of ASD, however, physical inactivity can lead to problems such as obesity. According to the authors, “A recent study on ASD demonstrated a positive connection between cheerfulness and participation in a quality leisure program.” Little research has investigated the barriers to physical activity for those with ASD, and it appears parent-reported barriers and those reported by the children themselves are quite different.

The participants in this study were drawn from four autism specific schools in Tehran, and had each been diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, or pervasive developmental disorder. Parents and teachers worded together to complete a questionnaire about the children’s physical activities throughout the day, and parents were asked to complete daily activity logbooks.

Of the 83 children, only 10 were active. Although the severity of the disorder or the parental level of education did not impact the activity score, the poverty level and single or married status of the parents did. Those who were living in poverty and/or with only one parent had significantly lower activity scores.

The parents reported that expense, along with lack of resources and opportunities were the main barriers to physical activity. Lack of time and motivation were also significant factors. Those barriers, combined with the fact that people with disabilities are generally less likely to be active, mean that children with ASD are at risk for a host of physical problems related to a sedentary lifestyle, as well as loneliness.