Tuesday, 9 January 2018

An exercise intervention for autism

"Our results provide support for exercise and physical activity, including basic coordination and strength exercises, as important therapeutic interventions for children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."

So said the results published by Chrystiane Toscano and colleagues [1] looking at an important, and sometimes easily overlooked, avenue of intervention with autism in mind: physical activity. I say 'intervention' but as with quite a few other programs/activities described in such terms, it's often more about offering equal access to things that most children (and adults) take for granted. Indeed, to 'intervention-ise' something like exercise in the context of autism kinda follows a pattern where even playing with some well-known connecting blocks is sometimes talked about in 'therapeutic' terms when mentioned alongside autism rather than just being play (see here). One has to be quite careful about the language used...

Anyhow, various parameters were monitored and measured as "a 48-week exercise-based intervention" was put into place looking at the presentation of autism as well as various physical-metabolic variables: "high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol."

Bearing in mind potentially problematic issues such as a lack of blinding - double-blinding - and of course the idea that exercise really needs to make you feel happy in order to keep doing it, researchers reported that many aspects seemed to improve over the quite long study period, more so for the group in receipt of exercise intervention. Not only did physical indicators show improvements, so did autistic features and also "parent-perceived quality of life" too.

Allowing for the fact that there could be 101 different variables impacting on the Toscano results outside of the increase in physical activity, I am happy to see that exercise is a continued focus when it comes to the autism spectrum [2]. There is literally oodles and oodles of research out there talking about how sedentary behaviour(s) do seem to be over-represented in relation to autism (see here for example) and where they could (in part) lead (see here); bearing in mind the sentiment: you can't outrun a bad diet. Anything that gets kids (and adults) up and active has to be a good thing.

Once again, I'm going to draw your attention to one potential exercise option that ticks many boxes when it comes to the autism spectrum and beyond: the martial arts (see here and see here). Physical activity... check. Focus on "basic coordination and strength"... check. Focus on predefined and (sometimes very) repetitive patterns of movement... check. Focus on individual performance set within a social context... check. Regular accomplishment levels - gradings - to boost confidence, pride and self-esteem... check. Something that will make any would-be bullies perhaps think twice or thrice... check.

And of additional importance to any discussions on exercise and physical activity, the data from Flygare Wallén and colleagues [3] highlight the important physiological reason(s) why getting those on the autism spectrum moving more is so damn important...


[1] Toscano CVA. et al. Exercise Effects for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Metabolic Health, Autistic Traits, and Quality of Life. Percept Mot Skills. 2017 Jan 1:31512517743823.

[2] Najafabadi MG. et al. The Effect of SPARK on Social and Motor Skills of Children with Autism. Pediatrics & Neonatology. 2018. Jan 6.

[3] Flygare Wallén E. et al. High prevalence of diabetes mellitus, hypertension and obesity among persons with a recorded diagnosis of intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2017 Dec 26.