Incorporating physical activity into young children’s lives is the key to creating a foundation of movement and activity that they will carry with them into their futures. Physical activity is essential for children with and without special needs alike as it promotes a healthy lifestyle, but can benefit children with autism in extraordinary ways.
Research has shown that 16% of children ages 2-19 are overweight, whereas the prevalence of overweight children with ASD increases to 19% with an additional 36% at risk for being overweight in the US. This indicates that more than half of all children with ASD are either overweight or at risk. In addition to the childhood obesity crisis, it’s often thought that participation in physical activity may be a challenge for children with autism because of low motivation, lack of socialization skills, difficulty in self-monitoring, the negative impact of increased visual, tactile and auditory stimuli.
However, if implemented properly, the addition of sports play to the life of a child with autism can help them overcome many of these challenges and improve their overall quality of life.
This is where we step in!
Special Olympics Florida started a program called the Young Athletes Program (YAP) in January 2009. The Young Athletes Program is an innovative sports play program for children ages 2-7 with developmental and intellectual challenges (ID) and their peers (inclusionary), designed to introduce them into the world of sports. The benefits to this program have been proven worldwide. The Young Athletes Program is designed to address two specific levels of play. Level 1 includes physical activities focused on developing fundamental motor tracking and eye-hand coordination. Level 2 concentrates on the application of these physical activities through developing sports skills consistent with Special Olympics sports play. The activities consist of foundational skills like walking & running, balance, jumping, trapping & catching, throwing, striking, kicking and advanced skills.
These activities help all children improve physically, cognitively, and socially. There are also numerous research studies that indicate that exercise can significantly decrease self-stimulating behaviors, aggressiveness, and self-injurious behaviors that are common among children with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviors.
Besides improving motor function, fitness, and behavioral challenges in kids with autism, among the most important advantages of the Young Athletes Program are the social implications of participating in a sports play program. The Young Athletes Program promotes increased self-esteem, increased general levels of happiness, and can lead to positive social outcomes, which are all beneficial outcomes for children with autism.
Experiences gained from the Young Athletes Program can be carried into traditional Special Olympics training, and serves as an introduction to the resources and support available within the organization for families, agencies, and schools.
For more information about the Young Athletes Program or Special Olympics competitive programming for children who are 8 years or older, please visit our YAP page or contact Chasity Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-243-9536 ext. 501.