FAQs - How Do You Persuade Kids With Autism to Exercise?


Parents ask “how I convince children on the spectrum to exercise?”

The most important answer is that I work at making fitness fun. Beyond exercise, I help to create a sense of values, accomplishment and self-worth for the children and young adults I coach. These are building blocks to self-esteem, self-reliance and social interaction.

Every one of the ASD children I coach is different. I work one-to-one with each child and take their behavior as statements of their needs that help me create programs to meet them. I set short and long-term goals to enhance physical abilities and achieve empowerment with fun, laughter, appropriate rewards, visualizations and positivity.

  • First, we perform a total assessment to learn at least one exercise that the child can perform with one repetition. Once he or she is successful, we gradually increase to 10 repetitions. This helps the child grasp that he or she is capable of doing something physically in the correct posture and form. Progress is self-rewarding. And of course, all of these progressions are marked with appropriate (non-food!) rewards.

  • The next step is increasing child’s physical awareness of their own personal space. This comes through playing a physical game with a ball or on a trampoline, a track or a treadmill. If the child is younger than 11, I might blow bubbles and have them jump up and touch the bubbles. I stand on a chair for what I call bubble jumping. They have to stomp on the bubbles or catch them. The key is making movement fun.

  • I also play Dot Tag with the children. This uses the lines on a basketball court, taping lines on the floor, or using one color of plastic spot markers all over the room. I put the spot markers in a straight row and then in a circle, and then zigzag the placement of different colors and I race with the child.

  • Next I bring them to the track. Once I’m confident that they can focus on the direction they are supposed to run - circle, straight line, etc - they are progressed to a real running environment on the track. By this time, the child has a sense of accomplishment and the strength to continue getting fit. It’s that sense of achievement that becomes the motivator.