Lisa Mische Lawson, Lauren Foster; Sensory Patterns, Obesity, and Physical Activity Participation of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Am J Occup Ther 2016;70(5):7005180070. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.021535
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© 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association
Obesity is a public health concern for the population in general and for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specifically. The purpose of this study was to understand relationships between sensory patterns, obesity, and physical activity engagement of children with ASD (N = 77) sampled from a specialized community-based swimming program. This retrospective correlational study analyzed program data. Results show that almost half (42.2%) of the children were overweight or obese, and sensory avoiding behaviors were related to higher body mass index (BMI). Children participated in few formal and informal physically active recreation activities. Sensory seeking behaviors were associated with increased participation in informal activities, and higher BMI was associated with less participation in both formal and informal activities. Practitioners should consider sensory processing patterns and BMI when developing community-based programs to promote physical activity of children with ASD.
Occupational therapy practitioners are experts on how sensory processing affects life activities. Understanding how a person’s sensory processing patterns influence participation in physical activity allows practitioners to better design interventions for individual clients, groups, and populations.
Using sensory processing knowledge, occupational therapy practitioners can partner with recreation and exercise professionals to increase physical activity among children with ASD by developing programming that meets the need of the clients, matching clients with existing programs, and teaching clients underlying skills to succeed in preferred activities.
Structuring environments with low levels of sensory stimuli can provide a better fit for children who display avoiding patterns. Examples of physical activities with lower levels of sensory input include quiet walking or running, stationary biking, tae kwon do, swimming, and yoga.
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