Now that we are well into summer, what better time to start thinking about getting involved in sports and outdoor fun! For kids/teens with autism, this is no different! It’s important to mention some positives that make searching for a good sports program, team or individual sport for your child or teen well worth the effort:
• Gross motor skills!!- Let’s face it, we can all improve our gross motor skills. Who doesn’t wish he or she were a better dancer on the weekends?! For kids and teens with autism, honing those gross motor skills is crucial while they are still growing and creating muscle memories about how to perform various tasks. If your child or teen is in an OT program, sports involvement can be a great practice arena for those skills in real time! During the years when we are growing is when we do the most physical learning, so involvement in physical activities during this time can develop skills that may last forever.
• Social skills- Particularly with team sports or sports programs, children and teens will learn valuable social skills like turn taking, waiting, being part of a group working toward a common goal, cheering teammates on, reinforcing each other, and looking to peers for cues and reinforcement, rather than adults. Even if team sports are not your child or teen’s thing, individual sports like swimming will often get him or her around peers by default and he or she can practice these valuable skills.
• Sense of accomplishment- Sports are very self-motivating activities with many rewards along the way. Each time your child or teen learns a new skill or accomplishes something, he or she is being empowered to believe he or she can do more and more! Isn’t it nice to actually focus on what your child can do and not what he or she can’t do?
• Learning to win and lose gracefully- I think everyone can stand to learn this lesson. Understanding that each sports event or practice is another chance to do better and to win is a great lesson for kids. On the same idea- just because he or she lost once does not mean that there is not another chance down the road. It’s good for kids to not get caught in a rut and understand that they have choices and chances every day.
• Good feelings and health- Sports and exercising are great ways to feel good. They are natural antidepressants and you don’t even have to get a prescription! As you exercise, your brain releases endorphins that give you a upbeat feeling for a while and this is all done automatically by your body! What could be better than that? And it’s free! Also, we all know the health benefits of staying fit and active- why not get your child or teen on the path to good health and fun this summer? He or she may develop a lifelong hobby, recreational activity, or even choose to compete at a higher level.
By the way- if you are caring for or are an adult, these same benefits apply!