Physical activity and sleep of children with autism spectrum disorder during school versus summer months: lessons learned from a pilot study



Summer break! A time for relaxation, exploration, and maybe even a little less routine. But for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the shift from the structured environment of school to the open schedule of summer can be disruptive. A recent pilot study published in May 2024 investigated how this change in routine might impact physical activity and sleep patterns in children with ASD.


The Activity Gap: More Movement During School


The study revealed an interesting pattern: children with ASD engaged in more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during school days (weekends included) compared to summer days (weekends included). This suggests that school routines, with their set schedules and opportunities for movement during recess or physical education classes, might provide a natural structure that encourages physical activity for children with ASD.

Physical activity is crucial for overall health and well-being. It can improve motor skills, social interaction, emotional regulation, and sleep quality in children with ASD. The findings of this pilot study highlight the potential benefit of structured activities during summer break to help children with ASD maintain healthy activity levels.


Sleep Schedules: A Potential Shift


The researchers also observed a potential shift in sleep schedules. While the total sleep duration remained around 7 hours per night, bedtimes were about 25 minutes earlier during school nights compared to summer nights. This could be due to the earlier wake-up times required for school. Sleep is another critical factor for children with ASD, impacting their daytime functioning, mood, and learning. Maintaining consistent sleep routines, even during summer break, can be beneficial for children with ASD.


A Pilot Study Paves the Way for More Research


It’s important to remember that this was a pilot study, meaning it was a small-scale investigation with only 6 participants. Larger studies are needed to confirm these observations and explore the underlying reasons behind the differences in physical activity and sleep patterns between school and summer months for children with ASD. Factors such as age, severity of ASD symptoms, and individual preferences might also play a role.


Strategies for Parents and Caregivers


While more research is ongoing, this pilot study offers some preliminary insights that parents and caregivers of children with ASD might find helpful:

  • Maintaining Activity Levels During Summer: Here are some ideas to keep your child with ASD active during summer break:
    • Enroll them in summer camps or programs that focus on physical activity.
    • Schedule regular outdoor playdates or family outings to parks or playgrounds.
    • Incorporate movement breaks throughout the day, such as dance parties or short exercise routines.
    • Encourage participation in activities your child enjoys, such as swimming, biking, or yoga.
  • Sleep Routines Throughout the Year: Establishing consistent sleep routines, including bedtimes and wake-up times, can be beneficial for children with ASD throughout the year, including summer break. Here are some tips:
    • Create a relaxing bedtime routine that signals it’s time to wind down.
    • Minimize screen time before bed.
    • Ensure a comfortable sleep environment that is dark, quiet, and cool.


It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance on promoting healthy physical activity and sleep habits for your child with ASD. A doctor or therapist can provide tailored recommendations based on your child’s specific needs and preferences.

Remember, summer break can be a wonderful opportunity for children with ASD to explore their interests and relax. By incorporating strategies to maintain healthy activity levels and sleep routines, parents and caregivers can help their children with ASD have a happy and healthy summer season.



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