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recreational therapies for ASD

Recreational Therapies: A Guide to Keeping Your Kids with ASD Active

Today’s guest blog by Vanessa Vogel-Farley of ACEing Autism explains the importance of recreational therapies for children with ASD.

Keeping children physically active and involved in activities outside of traditional therapies as theyrecreational therapies for ASD develop has proven to be very beneficial in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  We know that all developmental domains are intrinsically connected and impact each other, motor development is key for social communication skills, so enhancing motor skills can help in all areas of development, especially early in life. The availability of programs that specialize in the flexibility needed for children on the spectrum has increased tremendously over the past couple years.  Horseback riding, tennis, and soccer are all options. Picking the program that is right for you and your children can be tricky and expensive.

In addition, increased BMI in children with developmental disorders has become a huge issue that further complicates the life of the child as well as their families.  Physical activity is a solution to this growing problem, but keeping kids with ASD active is easier said than done.  As a person who has been running an Autism specific tennis program for 8 years, even getting some children on the court is nothing short of a miracle.  Below are some tips I have found to be beneficial over the years.

Tips to Keep Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Active:

  1. Continuity from program to home- Choose a sport or activity that you can enjoy as a family outside of the organized activity. Parental enthusiasm and joy in the activity has profound effects on how a child reacts to a new activity.
  1. Equipment- For some kids, the thrill of getting new equipment can be a useful tool in getting and keeping them engaged. There are programs that provide equipment while participating; asking if you are able to use that equipment between sessions can help to develop your child’s interest in that activity, while saving you the money of having to buy your own set.
  1. Down-time- There is a lot of waiting in most childhood activities and the patience that turn taking requires is even tougher in children with ASD. Attention to task and stimming behaviors become inhibitory. We have found that physical activity or routine during the time that waiting is required is helpful to keep kids engaged an attentive to the next task.  Use sit-ups, push ups, running in place, jumping jacks, toe raises, neck rolls, or anything that your child enjoys and helps to keep their heart rate up goes.
  1. Competition- Friendly competitions in safe environments can be easy ways to get kids active. Saying things like, “Beat you to the park,” “Race you to your room,” or “How many push-ups can we do in 30 seconds?” can increase physical activity on a daily basis as well as engaging you as a parent in a bit of a different light.  The aim is to have both of your giggling by the end.  Any child’s push up form is hilarious, not that mine, as an adult, is any better.
  1. Communication- If you choose an organized physical activity program, communication with the organizers and any one-on-one coach is essential.  Goals for each child can differ so much and your satisfaction with the program and the progress within that program is so important. If you do not feel like the program, which you are paying for, is working, communicating with the organizers can turn a bad experience into a successful one.

Finding a recreational program that works for you and your child may not be financially possible or if adding another thing to your family schedule makes you want to scream, increasing physical activity at home can be easy and fun.  Adding a walk after dinner or kicking a ball around for 15 minutes during the day can help to get everyone in the family more active.

Check out ACEing Autism to get your family and child with Autism moving with tennis lessons. Click here for one free class for North Shore Pediatric Therapy Affiliates!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

“Love, 15, 30, 40, game”- Why Tennis is a Great Summertime Activity for Children of All Ages

Tennis provides an excellent opportunity for your child to get outside and practice a wide variety of skills, such as sportsmanship, turn-taking, eye contact, and ball skills.  Tennis is a great partner activity, as it can be played with one player on each side of the net (singles) or with two players on each side(doubles).  Similarly, players can be rotated out, which works on waiting and patience, if there are more than 4 children who want to play with one another.

How Tennis Improves Your Child’s Muscles, Motor Skills and Coordination:

  • Muscle tone: Tennis is a sport which requires constant quick muscle responses to move towards the ball. The child must stabilize her trunk and arm muscles to hold the racquet and hit the ball.Children at the tennis court
  • Hand-eye coordination: The player must keep her eyes on the ball (tracking the ball on the court) in order to keep the game going (a rally) and have the best chance of scoring points. Ideally, the player is able to throw and catch a ball consistently to have the greatest success, as playing a game of catch without the racquets is a prerequisite skill to maintaining a rally.
  • High energy: Tennis is physically demanding, as the player must be constantly moving during the tennis match to keep up with the ball and protect her side of the net. This requires the player to have a good amount of endurance, strength, and breathing control.
  • Muscle grading: The player must be able to determine the appropriate amount of force needed to hit the tennis ball when the ball is moving, in order to return the ball to the other side of the net. For instance, when serving the tennis ball to begin the game, the player will need more force to hit the ball a longer distance, as the server is required to stand behind the baseline (farthest back). On the other hand, when the player is rallying the ball, she may want to hit the ball softly, to place the ball in a spot which will be challenging for the opponent to get to.
  • Sensory: Tennis is usually played outdoors. Therefore, many sensory components are involved. For instance, the outdoor smells (e.g. grass, sunscreen, bug spray); the feel of the ball (e.g. fuzzy/rough; can get soggy/dirty/muddy if it falls into a puddle); and the environmental noises (e.g. insects, airplanes, others nearby, traffic). The player is required to take in all of these sensory components, while also staying focused on the task at hand.

Overall, tennis is a great sport for any age:

Tennis can provide both a cardiovascular and a strength workout, as the player must chase after the ball and protect her side of the net, while also stabilizing and manipulating her racquet.  Tennis is a perfect sport for families to play together, and an easy way to work on sportsmanship and social skills with same aged peers.  If you have any concerns about your child’s ball skills, hand-eye coordination, or bilateral skills, or any other skills mentioned above, please reach out to your child’s occupational therapist or physical therapist for further support and collaboration.

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