How Can Physical Activities Support Students with ASD and ADHD?

physical activities for autism and ADHD

Research indicates the tremendous benefits of utilizing exercise with all children, including those with symptoms of ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Research on ADHD and Exercise

Experts at Michigan State University have demonstrated that children diagnosed with ADHD have better focus and are less distracted after a 20-minute exercise session. Matthew Pontifex, assistant professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University, and lead researcher for the study said:

“This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our nonpharmaceutical treatment of ADHD. Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children’s physical activity.”

Here is a brief summary of the study as reported in research.msu.edu in October 2012. 

“Pontifex and colleagues asked 40 children aged 8 to 10, half of whom had a diagnosis of ADHD, to spend 20 minutes either walking briskly on a treadmill or reading while seated. The children then took a brief reading comprehension and math exam similar to longer standardized tests. They also played a simple computer game in which they had to ignore visual stimuli to quickly determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming.

The results showed all of the children performed better on both tests after exercising. In the computer game, those with ADHD also were better able to slow down after making an error to avoid repeat mistakes – a particular challenge for those with the ADHD.

Pontifex said the findings support calls for more physical activity during the school day.”

research.msu.edu
research on physical activities for autism and ADHD

Research Studies on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Exercise

Research studies show that physical activity is beneficial in reducing stereotypic behaviors, and improving appropriate behaviors, social skills, and motor skills in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For more on autism research and exercise see:

Related Article: 15 Behavior Strategies for Children with Autism

research on physical activities for autism and ADHD

What Are Some Other Potential Benefits of Exercise for People with ADHD and ASD?

Research shows that exercise leads to improved self-esteem and health. Physical activity has also been shown to help decrease anxiety and depression. So teaching good exercise habits early can lead to a lifetime of benefits.

Physical Activities for Students with ADHD or ASD

Exercise Ideas for School and Home

Try some of these exercises as a break from the normal class routine or while your child is at home, maybe before a homework session.

Depending on your child’s age and physical capabilities you will have to decide how long the activities should last. Start with 5 to 20-minute sessions.

You can pick one activity or do a few different ones for a few minutes each. If you are only doing a short session, such as five minutes, try to do a few a day.

Stretch to Warm Up

Stretch to Warm Up

Do Jumping Jacks

Do Jumping Jacks

Run in Place

Run in Place

Dance to Music

Dance to Music

Play “Aerobic Simon Says” (e.g., Simon says do 10 jumping jacks, Simon says touch your toes 10 times in a row, Simon says jump up and down 20 times, etc.)

Play Aerobic Simon Says

Do a Dance or Exercise Video

Do a Dance or Exercise Video

Bounce on a Ball

Bounce on a Ball

In the Community: (Try Some of These Activities to Get Your Child Moving Outside)

Stretch to Warm Up

Stretch to Warm Up

Fast Walking

Fast Walking

Jog or Run

Jog or Run

Shoot Hoops/Dribble

Shoot Hoops/Dribble

Swim

Swim

Jump Rope

Jump Rope

Play Tag (If your child does not have a friend to play with, play with your child)

Play Tag

Ride a Bike

Ride a Bike

Kick a Soccer Ball Around

Kick a Soccer Ball Around

Play Handball

Play Handball

Incorporating Exercise Into Learning

You can even try incorporating exercise into learning. This is a great way to keep active kids motivated. For example, if you are studying with your child for a vocabulary test, write the words on index cards and tape them to the wall.

research on physical activities for autism and ADHD

When you call out a definition (e.g., for solution – as shown above – you might say an answer to a problem) , have your child run to the word and run back to you to hear the next definition. Try putting two to ten words on the wall.

I challenge you to think of a way to incorporate movement into your own learning activity.

Keep in Mind: Since exercise leads to improved learning, focus, behavior, (mental and physical) health, and self-esteem; don’t take recess away as a punishment. For some kids, recess is the only exercise they get.

Related Articles:
Please Don’t Take Away My Recess-A Poem About ADHD
15 Behavior Strategies for Children on the Autism Spectrum
14 Strategies to Help Kids with ADHD in the Classroom or At Home
6 Research-Based Interventions for the Treatment of ADHD in Children

Please comment below with any exercises or movement ideas you have! I would love to hear from you!

Exercise is one way to help children improve learning and behavior, but there are many effective strategies that can be used along with exercise.

Education and Behavior – A Free Resource for Parents, Educators, Therapists, and Counselors to Support Children: Keeping Us on the Same Page Since 2014.

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