Friday 19 February 2016

Behavioural outcomes in autism following exercise

It's our birthday today (this blog I mean). We've reached the ripe old age of 5. Many happy returns Questioning Answers. According to some people (one person anyway) "Those who can, publish. Those who can't, blog". Personally, I enjoy doing a bit of both and when it comes to peer-reviewed science, quantity does not always trump quality. That's my excuse anyway.

And onwards...

Today I'm talking about the paper by Emily Bremer and colleagues [1] who set out to "systematically search and critically analyse the literature pertaining to behavioural outcomes of exercise interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder aged ⩽16 years."

Researchers concluded that pretty consistently, various exercise interventions "can result in improvements to numerous behavioural outcomes including stereotypic behaviours, social-emotional functioning, cognition and attention." At the very least, adverse side-effects and harms were minimal and it goes without saying that any sort of physical activity is normally quite a good thing anyway. The sorts of activity included in the review ranged from swimming to yoga/dance and quite a bit in-between. Further: "Horseback riding and martial arts interventions may produce the greatest results with moderate to large effect sizes, respectively."

Martial arts in particular cutting the scientific mustard? Well, I'm impressed. Indeed I've said as much about the use of martial arts such as karate for autism before (see here and see here) realising that certain aspects of the discipline such as kumite might not initially be to everyone's taste. That being said, karate and other martial arts might tend to instil a degree of confidence in their practitioners [2], so even those who might not be natural-born 'fighters' might eventually develop a liking (and talent) for this side of the activity. A sprinkling of competition can also sometimes be a good thing (head to 2m36s to see how kata can translate into action)...

Of course the authors are correct in their assertion that further: "well-controlled designs, standardized assessments, larger sample sizes and longitudinal follow-ups is necessary". I might add that a focus on the biology associated with using particular exercise regimes as well as the behavioural effects might also be a good idea so as to potentially ascertain what it is about particular sports/pastimes that seem to produce the behavioural outcomes noted.

I think more people are cottoning on to the idea that sports and physical activity might hold lots of different promises for many people with autism. Most people on the autism spectrum do not lack the capacity to engage in sports and exercise (see here) but again, it tends to be about the provision of opportunities and putting forward a good case as to why taking up a physical activity might be a good thing (see here). I say this keeping in mind individual tastes.

Finally, with again the martial arts in mind, at least one of the governing bodies here in Blighty is starting to open doors. The question is: what's stopping you? Kiai!

Music to close, and given some enthusiasm from some of my brood for Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Yello and Oh Yeah...


[1] Bremer E. et al. A systematic review of the behavioural outcomes following exercise interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2016. Jan 28.

[2] Chen MA. & Cheesman DJ. Mental toughness of mixed martial arts athletes at different levels of competition. Percept Mot Skills. 2013 Jun;116(3):905-17.

---------- Bremer, E., Crozier, M., & Lloyd, M. (2016). A systematic review of the behavioural outcomes following exercise interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder Autism DOI: 10.1177/1362361315616002

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