Do you or your child have difficulty making eye contact in social situations?
Do you or your child get easily overwhelmed by sensations such as sound, light or smell?
If you answered yes to either of the above, you may fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. While there is no “typical” presentation, there are four core features frequently seen in someone diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
- Difficulty with social skills such as reduced eye contact and/or reduced facial expressions
- Atypical sensory processing. This is how someone perceives and reacts to their own body and the environment around them.
- Delays or impairments in language/communication. These include delays in or total lack of speech as well as a severe lack of ability to initiate or sustain a conversation.
- Restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behaviours such as fixating on objects with an abnormal focus and repetitive movements such as hand or arm flapping
WHAT IS ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term, recognised and covered by the NDIS, which is used to describe a number of disorders of which the two most common are Autism and Aspergers Disorders respectively. ASD is thought to affect up to 2.5% of children and impacts both social and physical development in children. This can lead to increased sedentary behaviour such as sitting in front of screens for extended periods of time, obesity, heart disease, and other comorbidities.
ASD is diagnosed based on groups of key developmental behaviours, some of which are listed above. These typically appear during childhood however they can go unnoticed into the teenage years. Brain development in the early years of life is thought to be responsible for ASD, as such, there is currently no prevention or cure, making ASD a life-long condition. There is no evidence to suggest that ASD can be caused by vaccinations, foods or other lifestyle factors.
DECREASED PHYSICAL FITNESS IN ASD
Research has shown that children with ASD have lower physical fitness scores than those without. The types of physical fitness affected are muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility.
Unfortunately, all too often the result of difficulties associated with ASD result in decreased opportunities to participate in physical activity, thus giving rise to high levels of inactivity. This is likely one of the main reasons for the decreased physical fitness seen in children with ASD.
ASD AND SENSORY PROCESSING
It is also important to understand how children with ASD process sensations, that is, how intensely they experience things. Between 69% and 95% of individuals with ASD experience atypical sensory processing, typically falling into the category of either “Seeker” or “Avoider” for different types of sensations. In seeking behaviours, children seek out sensations and enjoy experiencing new and intense variations of that sensation. On the other hand, some sensations can be overwhelming which results in avoidance of certain sensations. While we all have our preferences, in ASD these are more pronounced. See below for a table with some examples.
|Hearing||Loud music, turns up the TV||Loud music, crowds, loud household appliances. Will often cover ears to cope with loud noises.|
|Seeing||Colourful toys, bright patterns||Bright lights and colours|
|Touching||Tight hugs, wrestling, playing with mud/water/messy things||Hugs, touch, clothes with certain textures/materials|
|Tasting||New foods, spicy/hot foods||Unfamiliar or new foods. Foods with certain textures/flavours/colours.|
|Smelling||Flowers, candles, foods||Strong smells, cologne|
Perhaps you relate to one or many of these. This is completely normal and we all have our individual preferences. However, it is critical to acknowledge that in ASD the way that these are experienced by the child is magnified such that the experience can be extremely comforting and enjoyable or completely overwhelming.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AT HOME?
- Break up long periods of sitting by getting up and moving around for a few minutes every half hour to hour. This could be as simple as getting a glass of water or taking a walk outside.
- Decrease screen time where possible by encouraging other activities.
- Create a safe space to exercise with sensory preferences in mind.
- Make exercise fun. Try games such as tag and obstacle courses which engage the child without creating a strict exercise routine.
HOW CAN PHYSIOPHI HELP?
If you’re having trouble getting moving or finding the right balance of activities, the experienced team at Physiophi can help. We provide opportunities to exercise in a safe and friendly environment, 1-on-1. Exercise is tailored to the needs of the individual and can focus on improving strength, cardiovascular endurance, control of movement and coordination, and flexibility in addition to our usual musculoskeletal physiotherapy. Our knowledge and understanding of ASD and how it affects the body and the child can help to get the best results and real-world improvements.
With clinics in Darra and Jindalee, we serve the residents of:
- Indooroopilly, Kenmore, Mount Ommaney, Richlands and surrounds
If you’re looking for ways to encourage physical activity and build lifelong physical skills in yourself or a child diagnosed with ASD, contact our friendly staff today on: (07) 3172 4332 or book online at: www.physiophi.com.au
Autism Spectrum Australia. 2017. Sensory processing. [online] Available at: https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/uploads/documents/Fact%20Sheets/Factsheet_Sensory-processing_20170306.pdf
Dunn, W. (2009). Living sensationally: Understanding your senses. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
HealthDirect. 2020. Autism. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/autism> [Accessed 25 January 2022].
Jones, R. A., Downing, K., Rinehart, N. J., Barnett, L. M., May, T., McGillivray, J. A., Papadopoulos, N. V., Skouteris, H., Timperio, A., & Hinkley, T. (2017). Physical activity, sedentary behavior and their correlates in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A systematic review. PloS one, 12(2), e0172482. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172482
Pan, C. Y., Tsai, C. L., Chu, C. H., Sung, M. C., Ma, W. Y., & Huang, C. Y. (2016). Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Health-Related Physical Fitness in Secondary School-Aged Male Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Physical therapy, 96(4), 511–520. https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20140353