What Are the Best Sports for Kids with Autism?

These Sports Offer Great Benefits for Kids with Autism

Baseball kids
Baseball kids. Baseball kids

What's the best sport for a child with autism? As with every child, the best sport is the one your child enjoys and excels at. That said, though, autism does impair social and communication skills and may have a negative impact on gross motor coordination. That means "typical" team sports such as soccer, basketball and hockey may be particularly tough. Individual sports, however, may be just the ticket.

Autism and Swimming:

Swimming is a wonderful sport for most people, including children with autism. Kids who have a tough time with ball-handling skills can do well with basic strokes and typical water play. What's more, there is no reason why a kid with autism can't take part in a swim team especially since swim team members compete individually.

Autism and Horseback Riding:

Horseback riding is pricey. That aside, though, it's a terrific sport for kids with autism. In fact, many autistic kids ride horses as a therapeutic activity (as such it's termed "hippotherapy"). It's not unusual for autistic kids to find it easier to communicate with animals than with people -- and many autistic children excel at horsemanship.

Autism and Track and Field:

Strangely, Americans teach their youngest children to play complex team sports like soccer while only high schoolers seem to compete in running and jumping!

For kids with autism, track and field may be a terrific outlet. Track events require fewer non verbal communication skills than most team sports, yet kids who excel at track are valued team members.

Autism and Bowling:

Even though it's loud, bowling seems to be a natural sport for many kids with autism.

Perhaps it's the repetition -- bowl twice, sit down. Or maybe it's the satisfaction of seeing the pins come crashing down. Whatever the reasons, bowling is a great sport for social events that include kids on the autism spectrum.

Autism and Hiking:

For many people with autism, the peace and quiet of the natural world is a great stress reliever. Hiking, which can be an individual or group activity, is an easy way to get exercise and enjoy nature without the pressure of intense social communication. Fishing is another sport that may be of interest to an autistic individual who enjoys the natural world.

Autism and Biking:

Bike riding can be tough for kids with autism, since balance may not come naturally. Once the basic skills are mastered, though, cycling can be a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. Like most of the sports described above, cycling can be enjoyed alone or in a group, just for fun or competitively. If your child enjoys the idea of biking and does well with training wheels, but finds a two-wheeler tricky, you may want to consider an adult trike, a tandem, or just sticking with the training wheels.

Autism and Martial Arts:

The martial arts -- karate, judo, taekwando, aikido, and more -- combine the elements of predictability and structure with the challenges of physical interaction with other people. For many kids with autism, the martial arts are a wonderful way to build physical skills along with self-esteem.

Autism and Just-for-Fun-and-Exercise Sports:

If you're hoping to get your child with autism involved with team sports, a good way to get started is by playing together just for fun. Whether you're shooting baskets, tossing the ball back and forth, or learning to skate, you'll be building both physical and social skills if you do it together. In the long run, it's experiences like shooting hoops with dad (even when the hoop is lowered) that help build parent-child connections.

If you're just concerned with getting your child to exercise, here are a few options to consider:

  • Gamify exercise with video systems like Wii and Kinect, which encourage players to move their bodies and learn new skills at home, without the pressure of being observed or encouraged to "join in."
  • Consider classes (either general interest or autism-specific) in yoga, dance, or other types of movement.
  • Create activities, such as obstacle courses or local "fun runs" that you and your child can do together.

Continue Reading