Effects of Physical Activity on Cognition, Behavior, and Motor Skills in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies



Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects how a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. It can impact social interaction, communication, and behavior. While there’s no cure for ASD, various treatment approaches can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.


Recently, researchers have been exploring the potential of physical activity (PA) as a complementary therapy for young people with ASD. A promising study published in April 2024 titled “Effects of Physical Activity on Cognition, Behavior, and Motor Skills in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies” sheds light on this exciting area of research.


Delving into the Details: How Physical Activity Can Benefit Youths with ASD


This systematic review analyzed 19 different studies that investigated the effects of PA interventions on cognition, behavior, and motor skills in youths with ASD. The findings suggest that incorporating physical activity into their routine might hold significant benefits:

  • Boosting Cognitive Function: Over 58% of the reviewed studies revealed positive impacts of PA on cognitive function in youths with ASD. This includes improvements in executive functions, a critical set of skills for planning, organizing, focusing attention, and problem-solving.
  • Enhancing Behavior and Motor Skills: Around 45.5% of the studies demonstrated positive effects on behavior and motor skills. Physical activity may help manage behavioral challenges and improve motor coordination in young people with ASD.
  • Finding the Right Fit: The study suggests that moderate-intensity PA sessions lasting 15-30 minutes might be particularly effective. These sessions appear to have positive acute effects on cognition, overall behavior, and repetitive behaviors in youths with ASD. Examples of moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing.


Why Physical Activity Matters for Youths with ASD


This research adds to the growing body of evidence that physical activity can be a valuable addition to treatment plans for young people with ASD. Here’s a breakdown of the key takeaways:

  • PA interventions can positively impact cognitive function, behavior, and motor skills in youths with ASD.
  • Moderate-intensity PA sessions, like brisk walking or swimming, appear to be particularly beneficial.
  • Physical activity can be a safe, accessible, and enjoyable way to support overall well-being in young people with ASD.


It’s important to remember that this research is based on a systematic review, and further studies are needed to confirm the long-term effects of PA on ASD.


Taking Action: Moving Forward with Physical Activity for Youths with ASD


If you are a parent or caregiver of a young person with ASD, consider discussing PA options with a healthcare professional. They can help you create a safe and effective PA plan tailored to your child’s needs and interests. Here are some additional points to consider:

  • Variety is Key: Explore different activities to find ones your child enjoys. This could include team sports, individual activities like swimming or yoga, or even dancing to their favorite music.
  • Start Slow and Gradually Increase Intensity and Duration: Begin with shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your child’s fitness level improves.
  • Make it Fun! Physical activity should be an enjoyable experience. Focus on activities your child finds engaging and motivating.
  • Consider Social Aspects: Team sports or group fitness classes can provide opportunities for social interaction, which can be beneficial for some youths with ASD.


Remember, consistency is key! By incorporating regular physical activity into your child’s routine, you can help them reap the many potential benefits for their cognitive function, behavior, motor skills, and overall well-being.




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