Movement and exercise are important to children with autism

Just because your child has autism, doesn’t mean that he/she is limited to just special or therapy-based activities. Even kids who find socialization difficult can benefit from sports and fitness programs that can adapt to their learning differences, according to Michelle M. Turner, a Valley movement specialist and educator.

Working with Autism

Michelle Turner works with her son Graham, who has autism. Photo courtesy of Michelle Turner.

Movement helps children with autism become more aware of their surroundings. Exercise and activities that incorporate socialization help a child learn how to interact with others.

“Exercise creates great social awareness as a child watches and copies their peers, which continues into their daily habits and conversations,” says Turner, who is herself the parent of an autistic child. “Plus, children have lower levels of depression and hyperactivity with regular routines and exercise.”

You don’t have to look far to find ways to get your child out there having fun, staying healthy and interacting with other kids their age. Turner recommends many different programs in the Valley, from church groups to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to Special Olympics.

Your local parks and recreation department may have a wide variety of sports and programs from tots to adults that are involved with your states’ disabilities program. These programs are usually discounted or very affordable for those on a tight budget.

Christ’s Church of the Valley offers a program called CCV Stars. While the organization offers typical soccer, flag football, basketball and cheer programs, there is also an Adaptive Sports program for children with developmental disabilities. From soccer to sports camps, children learn the importance of teamwork, skill building and the rules of some popular sports.

Working with Autism 2

Michelle Turner and her son Graham share a laugh while working on his movements

For children who learn well when they are watching and imitating their peers, this is a perfect way to teach them how to work with others. If there are kids on their teams who do a good job passing the soccer ball, your child might start to understand how nice it is to share.

Another interesting sport that you might not necessarily think of for an autistic child is karate. While punching, kicking, and breaking a piece of wood with your head might come to mind, karate is based on teachings of respect. Your child learn how to respect peers and authority, will get a great workout and will learn more about the ways their bodies can move and work in coordination.

Turner says it is important to keep in mind that activities like these are not something you can just throw your child into. It takes some mental preparation for your child to be ready for the changes that are ahead. She recommends visiting the location of the new activity ahead of time, talking about it in the days leading up and making sure your child is rested and otherwise at his/her best before getting started.

Turner has her own movement programs and website to help keep children with autism get moving. She uses gentle movements to help keep kids and babies aware of their bodies and how fun movement can be.

“Having a child with autism shouldn’t keep you from getting involved. Join in on the fun and the rewards will last a lifetime!” says Turner. — Veronica Jones


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