Kids with Autism See Many Benefits from Physical Activities

Recently, it has become more apparent that individuals on the autism spectrum can experience great benefits from participating in physical activities, such as swimming, horse-back riding, and running. Furthermore, programs are being developed to incorporate autistic individuals in mainstream athletic events.

Achilles International is a group that aims to allow individuals on the spectrum to participate in events, such as races. Achilles has recently received a grant from the Cigna Foundation to initiate a study on how running can help children with autism. Megan Wynne Lombardo, director of the Achilles Kids Running Program, states, “We have this running program, and we’ve been seeing amazing effects on kids with autism when they run – incredible physical changes, improvements in behavior, better focus, and improvements in so many indicators of Autism that they suffer from”.

Katie Sweeney, mother of a 16 year old son with Autism, has seen an incredible difference in her son’s behavior since he picked up running two years ago. Prior to becoming physically active, 16-year-old Dusty had experienced aggressive behavior, including self-injury and hitting. But over recent months, his family has seen incredible improvements in behavior, thanks to his dedication to running, as well as an anti-inflammatory diet. Katie states, “the routine of [running], and the mental benefits, have been amazing. I think the endorphins have done wonders.”

Dusty Sweeney
(credit: Fox News)

Achilles International launched in 1983, primarily serving adults with various disabilities. Today, Lombardo states that the running groups for children are primarily filled with children with Autism or other cognitive disorders. She states, “these kids are going to need to go somewhere; they’re going to need jobs; they’re going to need housing and lifelong support, and we want them to be engaged in their community. Running is a way they can do that and be a part of the world.”

Karen Cierzan, Vice President for Behavioral Operations at Cigna, has looked at the behavior changes of children participating in the program. She states, “we look at eye contact during the activity and immediately following – did it last after stopping physical activity? And general focus and demeanor—what it is during and after?”. The children that have participated in the program thus far have generally seen wonderful improvements in their focus, as well as their verbal communication. Karen Sweeney hopes that her son, Dusty, will continue running, and that one day, he could even run a marathon. She expects that this will be a lifelong habit of his, which will help anchor Dusty in his community and help him lead a happy life.

The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference will be discussing the Road to Opportunity for individuals with Autism in NYC, this Wednesday, July 2nd! This conference features an incredible program, with many notable speakers. It is an event that no Autism professional, educator, or student, will want to miss! To select tickets, please click here.

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