The Advantages of Running for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

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running with autism The Advantages of Running for Kids on the Autism Spectrum www.runnerclick.com

We all know running is good for us.  We all have our reasons why we enjoy it.  RunnerClick is loaded with great stories and data about the advantages of running.  Autism Speaks reported that one in forty-five children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with autism somewhere on the spectrum.  They suggest that early intervention increases the likelihood of progress.  Running may be a good option for some of these children.

team award
Team Award for fastest overall 5K

Runner’s High May Overcome Autism Depression

Two of my sons are autistic.  A common symptom for them and other kids on the spectrum is depression.  Runners know all about this thing called the “runner’s high.” That’s actually the body’s natural response to aerobic exercise.  It’s an increase in beta-endorphins in the blood as well as positive effects in the brain’s endocannabinoid system.  The good news is that even kids on the autistic spectrum may be able to experience this euphoria.  It’s a boundless opportunity for them to escape the plague of depression.

Running May Overcome Social Anxiety

Some kids on the spectrum like mine have a lot of social issues.  Runners regularly experience “me” time and use it to all sorts of advantage.  Autism can cause such sever social anxiety that kids don’t even want to go outside.  “Me” time running may help mitigate this issue.  Recreational running is often viewed as a great equalizer.  Everyone has their own form, technique, speed, and preferences.  Most of us ignore these differences and just enjoy the run for ourselves.  That could be a perfect world for the socially anxious kids who just want to be left alone and not noticed.  Nobody will stop them or stare at them or ask them why they are different.  They won’t get picked on.  They can be free to be themselves.

social anxiety
Socially Anxious? It’s just me.

Running May Overcome a Poor Diet

Kids on the autism spectrum are notoriously picky eaters.  Texture, taste, and smell senses may be extremely heightened for them.  As a result, their diets may be very poor.  Runners know they need lots of good fuel to run well.  My youngest son runs cross country and track.  When he started last year, he was still on his staple diet of saltine crackers and string cheese.  The good news is, some autistic kids are adaptable and can find a way to overcome their food issues.  My son now knows what a good runner’s diet is and so he has willingly tried some new things because he wants to be a better runner.  My oldest son, not a runner, also has a poor diet.  But rather then force him to eat better, we take a bunch of the things he does not like and put them into a smoothie.  He never notices as he gladly gulps down the concoction.

Running May Overcome Loneliness

If the social issues don’t stop autism spectrum kids from trying to make friends, then running may be a good way to make the effort.  My son has never divulged to his teammates that he is autistic.  Nevertheless, they know he is different.  But that does not seem to matter too much.  They accept him as one of their own.  It works much better on the cross country team.  It’s a small group of boys who have great team chemistry.  Every Friday night before a meet, they get together at someone’s house for a pasta party.  They carb load and play games together.  My son went to them all.  Then he asked to host one.  My wife and I were concerned.  How often have we heard of and personally experienced the autistic kid who has nobody show up to their birthday party?  It is heartbreaking.  Over twenty-five of those good boys showed up to our house and they had a blast.

pasta party
Team pasta party

Running May Overcome Hypersensitivity

Very early in his life, I noticed that my son did not seem to feel pain.  This is a common trait among some kids on the autism spectrum.  But if the pain is associated with something external like a little cut or scrape, a meltdown may be on the way.  Runners normally live with pains of all kinds.  To a kid on the autism spectrum, these pains may be showstoppers.  My son has learned to run through them.  His hyper-focus on running somehow overrules his hypersensitivity.  This is good news for parents with children on the autism spectrum.  Our kids may be able to learn to adapt.  We have to give them those opportunities.

Running May Unlock the Mind and Body

Some kids on the autism spectrum are locked in.  This means that they may not be able to verbally communicate.  For others it may mean that they are often sedentary.  I do not have this experience with my sons.  Runners know the freedom of running.  They have mantras and other self-motivators to keep moving.  Some kids on the autism spectrum know something about mantras.  They may exhibit those repetitive behaviors like arm flapping.  I know a boy like that.  I also know he likes to run.  Let him loose!  There’s nothing to correct here.  Nothing harmful.  Only good can come from letting a child run freely.  If you didn’t know they were autistic, they would look just like all the other kids running around the playground.  They run, wave, cartwheel, sing-song, and play.  Let the children play.

hair mantra
My hair flops in time to my mantra

Running May Overcome Blockades

For reasons we don’t fully understand, kids on the autism spectrum often exhibit what is often described as stubbornness or willfulness.  They see things one way and just won’t budge.  While this may often happen with parents, one running coach I know reported great success.  For the most part, runners take instruction very well and seek out advice on how to be a better runner.  It seems that some kids on the autism spectrum are the same way.  Parents – make good friends with those coaches who connect with your kids.

Running May Open Roads

There remains much to explore in the realm of the advantages of running.  Much more research is required to help make progress in the understanding of autism.  In the meantime, it seems like running may be a great opportunity for some kids on the autism spectrum.

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