Picture Books Can Boost Physical Activity for Youth With Autism | Nutrition Fit



Summary: A new picture book with step-by-step instructions on how to do basic exercises like jumping jacks, helps increase levels of physical activity in young people with ASD.

Source: University of Missouri

While physical activity is important for everyone, research has shown people with developmental disabilities do not exercise as often as their typically developed peers.

In an effort to close this disparity, a researcher at the University of Missouri recently created fitness picture books that help youth with autism exercise more frequently while offering low-income families a simple resource for workout motivation when outdoor fitness equipment might not be accessible.

“There is so much research geared toward helping individuals with autism improve their academic performance, social skills and communication skills, but we also need to remember how important physical activity is for living a healthy lifestyle,” said Lorraine Becerra, an assistant teaching professor at the MU College of Education.

“There are numerous health benefits of exercise, such as pumping blood in your body, better sleep and reduced risk of obesity. Also, if we can get kids with autism more physically engaged, they are more likely to run around and play with their peers, so there are other aspects of their life we can improve as well.”

Becerra is also a behavior analyst at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Since some of her former clients with autism had body mass indexes that had risen to unhealthy levels due to excessive sedentary behavior, their caregivers asked Becerra to develop creative ways to encourage their children to exercise more.

So, in a recent research study, Becerra created fitness picture books that contained step-by-step images of various exercises, such as jumping jacks, bear crawls and lunges. The picture books were successfully utilized to increase the amount of time the individuals with autism engaged in physical activity.

Having previously worked in low-income school districts with limited financial resources, Becerra understands the need to find cost-efficient methods to help kids with autism exercise more frequently.

This shows a young boy running on a beach
The picture books were successfully utilized to increase the amount of time the individuals with autism engaged in physical activity. Image is in the public domain

“It’s important to remember that some schools might not have a jungle gym or many age-appropriate resources for kids to play with,” Becerra said. “The great thing about the picture books is they provide simple, engaging exercises that can be done in a wide variety of settings, like a school playground, backyard or even an empty field at a park. It is also a quick and easy way for caregivers or teachers to provide organized structure during flexible free time, such as during recess.”

With recent advancements in technology and entertainment, youth are increasingly spending more of their time sitting in front of televisions, tablets and personal electronic devices. Becerra is passionate about reminding youth — particularly individuals on the autism spectrum — about the importance of scheduling time for physical activity.

“These lifelong habits start when you are young,” Becerra said. “Making time to run around and establish those exercise routines early in life will help youth maintain those habits in their adolescent and adult years.”

About this autism research news

Source: University of Missouri
Contact: Brian Consiglio – University of Missouri
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
The effect of photographic activity schedules on moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity in children with autism spectrum disorder” by Lorraine Becerra et al. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis


See also

This shows a brain

The effect of photographic activity schedules on moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity in children with autism spectrum disorder

Regular moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity (MVPA) has been linked to improved bone health, muscular fitness, cognitive function, sleep, and a reduced risk of depression and obesity.

Many children are not engaging in the recommended amount of physical activity. Furthermore, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were found to engage in less physical activity than their peers of typical development.

We extended previous research by conducting a physical activity context assessment, which included a comparison of indoor to outdoor activities to evaluate which environment produced the lowest percent of MVPA as recorded by the Observational System for Recording Physical Activity in Children. Given the utility of activity schedules to increase self‐management and independent engagement during unstructured and low‐preferred tasks, we then taught 3 preschool children diagnosed with ASD to use photographic activity schedules to increase the number of different activities that met the definition of MVPA in the 2 lowest‐responding conditions of the physical activity context assessment. MVPA remained low during baseline sessions for all participants and immediately increased with the introduction of activity schedule teaching.

All participants quickly met activity schedule teaching mastery criterion and demonstrated high levels of MVPA in generalization and maintenance probes without additional teaching.


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