Which Sports Are Best For People With High Functioning Autism?


One of the biggest misconceptions about children with autism is that they can’t be good at sports. While it is true that some sports can be challenging for autistic children, that doesn’t mean that they should avoid physical activity and stay away from sports.

It is important to understand that physical activity plays a vital role in the development of physical, cognitive, and even social skills in children. This makes it important to explore the exciting possibilities and find the best sports for high functioning autism.     

That said, keep in mind that not every sport is cut out for children with autism, which is why choosing the right physical activity is of critical importance.

Before you enroll your autistic child in a sports group or try and teach them a new sport on your own, you must take the time to consider multiple factors including social, communicative, coordinative, and behavioral skills of the child along with any other needs and sensitivities.

This will ensure that you choose the best sports for high functioning autism so that your child can have fun and enjoy the game.  

Research shows that some sports are better suited for children with autism than others. So, scroll down and take a look at some of the best options for your autistic child and choose the one that suits your child the best!  

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Swimming

Swimming is not only a healthy sport but it is also an extremely valuable skill that every child must learn. Fortunately, it is also one of the best sports for high functioning autism. According to one study that studies the various effects of swimming training on physical fitness and water orientation in autism,  

An important goal is to have autistic children to develop responses to stimuli in the environment. Swimming pool activities have found to be successful in this regard. The therapeutic use of water activities or swimming with autistic children is believed to facilitate language development and self-concept, improve adaptive behavior, and provide an appropriate setting for early educational intervention.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1442-200x.2004.01938.x

Keep in mind that all children have different approaches to swimming. While some may dive into right from the start, others may take some time to warm up to the idea of swimming or floating in the water. Some examples of aquatic exercises and play skills that are recommended by experts and are suitable for autistic children include:  

  • Leg kick while sitting on the pool deck 
  • Leg kick with a prone body position on the pool deck 
  • Forward walking in the pool 
  • Snake play as a group 
  • To pedal in a supine position on the water 
  • Paired kangaroo jumps 
  • Slow jog 
  • Freestyle swimming with a standing position in the water 
  • Shoulder abduction and adduction in the water (flap playing) 
  • Throw a ball into life ring 

Biking

For most people, learning to ride a bike is an enjoyable and memorable childhood experience. Unfortunately, biking does not come easy to children with autism save for a few exceptions. Therefore, as a parent, you must know how to teach a child with autism to ride a bike so that you can help your child master the skill and turn biking into an enjoyable activity for them. 

Remember, while your child is likely to struggle a bit in the beginning, once they get the hang of biking on their own, the activity offers a number of physical and mental benefits.

It strengthens the core muscles in the body and improves motor skills over time. Plus, it is an excellent way to learn balance, improve stamina, and instill a sense of independence in children. Keeping the many benefits of biking in mind, it is one of the best sports for high functioning autism. 

Fishing or Hiking 

Activities like fishing and hiking are a great way to help your child grow closer to nature and enjoy the great outdoors. These activities are best suited for autistic children who enjoy peace and quiet. Most autistic children will feel calm and relaxed away from loud noises and distractions.

This translates into an enjoyable experience without the pressure of social communication or performing well. Plus, once the child is comfortable with going on fishing or hiking trip, parents can gradually involve more people to turn it into a group activity, which may help in improving social skills.   

Keep in mind that while the outdoors offer lees distractions, weather conditions can still cause disturbance and even lead to sensory overload for those who are sensitive to it. Luckily, Getting into the Game: Sports Programs for Kids with Autism by Stephanie Patterson suggests multiple measures that you can take to minimize the sensory issues experienced by autistic children. Let’s take a look at some of them.  

  • Dress appropriately (for example, wearing gloves is useful for children who don’t like the sensation of rain on their hands).  
  • Wear hat and sunglasses. The sun may prove too bright for some, and sunglasses and/or hats with visor can help decrease this distraction.  
  • Talk about the new sensations. This may be beneficial for those children who do not have the language to describe these new sensations and experiences.    

Playtime Should Be Fun!   

Autistic children can enjoy and excel at multiple other sports include horseback riding, track and field, rock climbing, martial arts, bowling, and running. You can also try gymnastics and even dancing. In the end, choosing the best sports for high functioning autism boils down to the needs, sensitivities, and individual autistic traits of your child.  

There is no one-fit sport for all autistic children. So, when you introduce your child to a new sport, see how they react to it. Are they interested in it? Do they look forward to playing it? How well do they integrate with the team?  

Asking these questions can help you determine if you have made the right choice. In case you notice that the child is getting frustrated, it is best to try some other activity rather than forcing your child to learn the sport of your choice. This is important because playtime should always be fun!      

References 

https://dergipark.org.tr/en/download/article-file/91539

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1442-200x.2004.01938.x

Team SafeSleep

Hi! We're a team of scientists, doctors, teachers, and coaches experienced in helping people with special needs. We hope you like our research and share it with others who might find it helpful too :)

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