Tis the season for laziness - okay, maybe I'm speaking for myself here. Whether it's winter or not, many of us dread having to go to the gym and exercise to keep off the pounds. It's a necessity of keeping healthy but it doesn't make it any easier to motivate.
What if your reasons for keeping active went beyond just staying trim and fit? What if exercise was a critical factor in whether or not you had a "good day?" As an occupational therapist, I often talk about active movement being a naturally occurring part of any child's day because these sensory experiences promote regulation, attention, and participation for children with differing abilities. For some children with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder, dysregulation can result in behavioral issues that impact social, emotional, academic, and independent skills. Exercise with an active movement or sensory focus has been shown to support behavior and regulation.
For children on the autism spectrum, it can be a challenge to learn gross motor activities that many kids pick up on developmentally - jumping jacks, bike riding, sports activities - these all require a level of motor coordination that can be difficult for some kids. In part due to the fact that these movement-based activities don't come naturally, research has shown an increased incidence of obesity in children with autism.
The ExerciseBuddy App
ExerciseBuddy is an iOS iPad app and GooglePlay app that supports people with autism in designing exercise systems that support physical health and sensory wellbeing. The app's design team is comprised of an exercise physiologist, special education teacher, and speech pathologist, all with extensive experience teaching and working with students with autism.
"EB," as they refer to it on their website, is designed with research in mind and the company has offered extensive support for how exercise can benefit children with autism. Because people with autism learn differently, EB offers social narratives that outline the "whats" and "whys" of exercise, visual supports for each exercise, video modeling, and first-then activity schedules that are supported with visual timers. Teachers and therapists can monitor progress using the data collection system in place if so desired.
Making exercise part of a sensory diet routine, especially as your child gets older, will support healthy habits, reduce the incidence of obesity, and support their self-regulation needs. We love that ExerciseBuddy offers visual aids in the form of modeling and visual cues to support diverse learners with autism. Check it out and let us know what you think!