World Autism Awareness Day

World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) is a day that recognises and celebrates the rights of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), worldwide, every year on April 2nd. The day aims to spread awareness, and highlight the need to continue improving quality of life for those with ASD in order to help them lead a positive and full life as an integral part of society.   

With an estimated 1 in 100 Australians being diagnosed with ASD and more than ¾ of this population being 5-24 years old, it is clear ASD is affecting a large population of Australians, as well as the parents, carers, family, and friends of those diagnosed. So, what is autism and how does it affect those diagnosed?  

What is autism?  

There is no one way to explain how an autistic individual experiences the world. Each and every one is different hence why the term ‘spectrum’ is used, reflecting the variety of characteristics that may be present to determine an ASD diagnosis.  

Generally speaking, ASD is a neurological developmental difference in an individual, causing them to see, experience and understand the world in a different way. This can include differences in social communication, interactions and engagement in restricted or repetitive behaviours and interest. Those with ASD will often have skills in particular areas of life, but will find other aspects quite challenging. The significance of these characteristics often assists in the diagnosis of ASD and where on the spectrum that individual may sit.  

Common strengths and challenges: 

Some of the common strengths identified in people on the autism spectrum are:  

  • Being particularly good at detail orientated tasks  
  • Noticing details in their world that others often miss  
  • Being logical and factual thinkers  
  • Enjoying and following routines and structure  
  • Seeing things from a different perspective.  

There are also challenges that people on the autism spectrum may face, these include:  

  • Difficulties in communicating their needs and wants to others  
  • Social interaction and interpreting other people’s behaviour  
  • Processing sensory information  
  • Learning academic and functional skills. 

Why is exercise important?  

Exercise can play a significant role in the life of an individual with ASD, including the following:  

  • Improvements of ASD symptoms, specifically behavioral and academic, reducing stereotypical behaviors, and improving verbal and non-verbal social communication skills.   
  • Moderate to vigorous exercise can show an effect on decreasing repetitive behaviour for children and adolescents with ASD.  
  • Exercise can assist reducing self-stimulatory behaviour (SSB). 
  • It is inexpensive, improving general health benefits and therefore overall quality of life.  
  • Assists in preventing detrimental behaviours.  
  • Improves aerobic fitness, muscle strength, coordination, motor planning, balance, gross and fine motor skills.  

An Exercise Physiologist can assist a client with ASD in setting what type of exercise plan will suit the individual best, to ensure strength and cardiovascular exercises are included and done safely as well as fundamental movements and skills required for every day life. Working with an Exercise Physiologist provides a safe environment where an individual is under supervision and has shown to produce the best outcomes in this population. Most importantly, an enjoyable program with variety aids in long-term adherence to exercising.

By Shannon ONeill