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A Fit for Fitness: Exercise for Kids with Special Needs

08/01/2017 08:29AM ● Published by Digital Media Director

By: Sharon Bethke, Special Strengths Fitness LLC

Families impacted with autism, down syndrome and other physical and cognitive disabilities are continuously trying to improve their child’s life through diet, cognitive and other behavioral and motor therapies. While all of these strategies are vital during early childhood, parents are often unsure how to meet those needs later in childhood, adolescence and beyond.

In addition to the health benefits, regular exercise helps children with autism improve balance and voluntary motor movement, decrease the occurrence of interruptive stereotypic behaviors, improve social competence, attain agility and confidence, and relief for comorbidities.

One of the hallmarks of autism is difficulty with motor activities. This can make participating in organized sports challenging or impossible. Specific and structured fitness activities can help those who have difficulty with gait, leaning forward properly and/or activities that cross the midline of the body or lack of muscle tone in the trunk leading to instability.

Another common trait in autism is behavioral disturbances. Studies have shown vigorous aerobic exercise can be utilized to control nonfunctional behaviors associated with autism. Stereotypical behaviors such as body rocking, spinning, head-nodding, hand flapping, object-tapping, and light gazing, which have been shown to interfere with positive social behavior and learning, can be decreased by the use of exercise.

A lack of physical activity holds many health risks that are often exaggerated in the special needs population. Beginning in the toddler years, youngsters with Autism Spectrum Disorder have a higher risk of being overweight or obese. Teenagers with autism are more than twice as likely to be obese as adolescents who don't have a developmental disability. This leads to higher rates of health conditions that can be caused or aggravated by obesity, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

What is the answer? For many children, exercise is provided in occupational and physical therapy. But when they have met their milestones or insurance runs out, it unfortunately comes to an end. As teenagers and young adults, their need for movement and sensory integration doesn’t stop, and exercise helps fill the gap.

Unfortunately, most people think of fitness and team sports as interchangeable—and few people with special needs have the social, collaborative and physical skills to do well in typical American team sports. Fitness is about exercising and strengthening the entire body, building not only specific skills but also cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and flexibility. Mainstream fitness centers are not adequately structured or staffed to assess individuals with special needs.

For individuals on the autism spectrum, fitness and exercise are often overlooked as life skills, however there is an abundance of research and clinical evidence supporting the dramatic benefits of implementing fitness programs for special needs populations. This specialized area of fitness is virtually unexplored and has created a significant demand for programs that are inviting, caring and effective.

Health, Parenting, Family, In Print, Today special needs fitness exercise Special Strengths Fitness
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    07:30PM — 10:00PM

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  • Join us at the Museum of Visual Materials for these free activities. No registration is required ...


  • Toddler Jump

    01/31/2018
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    Join us for one of the highlights of our week, Toddler Jump at Air Madness. During Toddler Jump, ...


  • Inflatables and PlayDome

    01/31/2018
    11:00AM — 08:00PM

    The County Fair has family entertainment for kids of any age—from our inflatables and Play Dome j...


  • Open Hockey

    01/31/2018
    11:00AM — 01:00PM

    Open Hockey Monday & Wednesdays 11-1:00 pm Friday 2:00-4:00 pm $10.00 - per session $100 -...


  • Scheel's Family Open Ice Skate

    01/31/2018
    11:00AM — 01:00PM

    Scheel's Family Open Ice Skate Open Skate Rates: Admission – $6.00 $4.00 for ages 12 and under...


  • Discount Skate Night

    01/31/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Skate for $1.00 an hour every Wednesday during our Discount Skate Night! Wednesdays • 6-9pm A...


  • Open Skate Discount Night

    01/31/2018
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    Open skating session for all ages at a discounted rate! Admission is $3. Regular skate rental fee...


  • A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER

    01/31/2018
    07:30PM — 10:00PM

    Getting away with murder can be so much fun… and there’s no better proof than the knock-‘em-dead ...


  • Tot Time

    02/01/2018
    05:30AM — 10:30AM

    Tot time is designed for toddlers and other little tikes, 6 years and younger, who may not be com...


  • Walking Program

    02/01/2018
    08:00AM — 10:00AM

    Location: Morningside Community Center, 2400 South Bahnson Avenue Walking is one of the best w...


  • 2018 Spring Classes

    02/01/2018
    08:00AM

    Register for spring classes at the Community Learning Center at your Washington Pavilion! We want...


  • Skyzone Toddler Time

    02/01/2018
    09:30AM — 11:30AM

    Toddler Time is a great shared experience for child and parent. A time for your little ones to di...


  • Toddler Time

    02/01/2018
    09:30AM — 11:30AM

    Toddler Time is a great shared experience for child and parent. A time for your little ones to di...


  • Little All Stars

    02/01/2018
    10:00AM — 10:50AM

    LITTLE ALL STARS (Walking to 6 years )


  • Wee Play & Learn

    02/01/2018
    10:00AM — 11:15AM

    Come with your child to play, meet other families, and talk one-on-one with child development exp...


  • Inflatables and PlayDome

    02/01/2018
    11:00AM — 08:00PM

    The County Fair has family entertainment for kids of any age—from our inflatables and Play Dome j...


  • New Baby & Me

    02/01/2018
    01:30PM — 03:30PM

    This group for new moms and their babies meets weekly. Moms can join in open discussion on topics...


  • Creative Kids

    02/01/2018
    03:15PM — 04:00PM

    Elementary-aged children are invited to join us for books, activities, and a craft. For more info...


  • S.T.E.A.M. -N- Thursdays

    02/01/2018
    03:30PM — 04:15PM

    Discover science, technology, engineering, art and math through activities. This month's theme: S...


  • A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER

    02/01/2018
    07:30PM — 10:00PM

    Getting away with murder can be so much fun… and there’s no better proof than the knock-‘em-dead ...