Master of Kinesiology (MKin)
Faculty of Science
Dr. Paula Fletcher
Dr. Pamela Bryden
The primary characteristics of ASD fall into three broad categories: communication problems, difficulty relating to people, things and events, and repetitive body movements and behaviours. According to the Government of Canada, in 2015, the prevalence of ASD was approximately 1% in North America and rising. The Canadian Physical Activity guidelines state clearly that the majority of elementary and secondary school aged children and youth (5-17 years old) should participate in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Unfortunately, only 9% of this general population has been successful in obtaining the suggested amount of physical activity daily. However, for individuals with ASD, potential barriers of achieving the physical activity goal set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology may be due to the characteristics of ASD.
The overarching purpose of the current study was to explore the influence that families, motor skills, and physical activity programming have on the physical activity patterns of children with ASD. This was achieved by quantifying physical activity patterns through questionnaires and interviews with members of families with children with ASD, by descriptively examining the motor performance and step count of children with ASD and their siblings, and finally by obtaining the perspectives of instructors for physical activity programs for children with ASD.
Four families and seven physical activity instructors participated in this study. The primary caregivers, children with ASD, siblings, and instructors completed questionnaires and participated in semi-structured one-on-one interviews. The children with ASD and the siblings were also asked to participate in motor testing comprised of three tasks: aiming and catching, balance, and visual-motor integration.
Two noticeable themes emerged from the data describing physical activity for children with ASD which included (1) physical activity, regardless of ability, and (2) the nature of ASD: programming and family challenges. The participants suggested that physical activity can have both positive and negative effects on children with ASD, however, many participants recognized that some of the difficulties children with ASD have with physical activity is no different than the typically developed (TD) population. Many of the participants in this study expressed perceptions that participation in physical activity improved physical skills in children with ASD, including motor skills. Unfortunately, the current study did not conduct motor testing with the children at more than one time; thus, improvements in motor skills through participation in physical activity cannot be concluded from this study. Interestingly, the objective measure of physical activity utilized in this study (pedometers), indicated that the more steps a participant took did not relate to motor skill proficiency or the perceptions of physical activity provided by the family.
Overall, this study presented potential improvements to physical activity programming for children with ASD, and described the physical activity patterns of children with ASD and their families. Further research is warranted to develop reliable and valid motor testing methods for this population.
Wright, Kristen, "Moving and Improving: Investigating Physical Activity Patterns for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)" (2017). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1950.