Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Activity Correlates for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Middle School Physical Education

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Activity Correlates for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Middle School Physical Education

Article excerpt

This study examined potential correlates that might influence physical activity (PA) of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in physical education. Students with (n = 19) and without (n = 76) ASD wore an accelerometer during physical education. Data were collected in 38 physical education lessons. The results showed that (a) students with ASD were less physically active than their peers, (b) their PA was related positively to their social interaction with peers, and (c) their moderate to vigorous PA depended on PA content, physical environment, and instructor-related characteristics. The findings suggest a need for additional studies on the relationship between the needs of adolescents with ASD and the content offered in physical education so as to inform school policies and help to remove barriers to promoting PA among this population.

Key words: adolescents, disability, health, inclusion

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) demonstrate (a) restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, and (b) impairments in social interaction and communication (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). For example, they have difficulties understanding social cues, making eye contact, playing social games, engaging in sharing/turn-taking and reciprocal conversation, and making friends. Furthermore, they generally demonstrate poor motor skills (Green et al., 2009), including locomotor and object control skills (Berkeley, Zittel, Pitney, & Nichols, 2001), reach-to-grasp tasks that include movement execution and planning (Marl, Castiello, Marks, Marraffa, & Prior, 2003), and graphomotor skills (Mayes & Calhoun, 2003). These social and behavioral deficiencies and perhaps motor skill impairments may prevent individuals with ASD from participating with their peers in school-based exercise and physical activities and expose them to the risk of developing secondary health problems.

Physical activity (PA) engagement has been identified as an important goal of physical education in the United States (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2004) and most other countries (Puhse & Gerber, 2005; World Health Organization, 2004). Keeping students physically active in physical education in order to receive health benefits is critically important in Taiwan, became a limited recreational market base and small sports industry provide limited opportunities for PA outside of school. Furthermore, many Chinese parents regard academic achievement as the single most important indicator of success for their children (Yu, Chan, Cheng, Sung, & Hau, 2006), and therefore engaging in PA after school hours is often discouraged because it is believed that PA drains energy and affects academic concentration (Yu et al., 2006). All these factors make school physical education the primary opportunity for the promotion of students' PA. However, no national consensus has been found to guide PA promotion and education about students' PA levels during physical education. Nevertheless, we believe that it can be beneficial for researchers, when comparing data with studies conducted in the U.S. and other countries, to use the guideline set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000), which says that students should engage in PA for 50% of lesson time. Studies using either accelerometers (Gidlow, Cochrane, Davey, & Smith, 2008; Nader, Bradley, Houts, McRitchie, & O'Brien, 2008) or direct observation (Chow, McKenzie, & Louie, 2009; McKenzie et al., 2006) have assessed PA in adolescents without disabilities. It is a concern that students in these studies did not achieve 50% of physical education class time in PA (Chow et al., 2009; McKenzie et al., 2006), that PA appeared to be lower during the school day than that outside of school (Gidlow et al., 2008), and that PA decreased significantly between the ages of 9 and 15 years (Nader et al. …

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