How Sports & Recreation Benefit Teens with Autism

Adolescents and teens with autism derive a variety of benefits from playing sports and engaging in recreational activities.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) poses some challenges for young people, both physical and emotional. Although participation in sports and recreation may require a slightly modified approach designed for kids on the spectrum, it’s a valuable experience for autistic students in the residential treatment environment.
sports recreation for teens with autism

Physical Benefits of Sports & Recreation for Autistic Teens

Adolescents and teens with autism face an increased risk of childhood obesity. This occurs largely because of their food-specific aversions, which may limit their diet to less-healthy food choices. Autistic kids also tend to favor sugar-laden foods and beverages. Consequently, the more exercise ASD adolescents and teens can get, the better their chances of maintaining a healthy weight.

Another physical benefit of exercise for autistic teens is improved coordination and muscle tone, which help increase students’ self-confidence and sense of competence.

Sports & Recreation Provide Emotional & Developmental Benefits

As powerful as the physical benefits of exercise, organized sports and recreational activities may be, the emotional and developmental benefits are even more striking.

Organized sports provide a wealth of opportunities for ASD teens to work on social and communications skills development. Recreational activities help increase motivation and spark students’ interest. By helping kids on the spectrum gently push their boundaries and comfort zones, they can develop the confidence and sense of safety necessary for them to embrace new experiences.

Finally, participating in physical activities can help autistic teens develop a sense of mastery. This helps ASD kids express their emotions, overcome fears and improves their ability to work and bond with peers and facilitators.

Taking a Modified Approach for Adolescents & Teens with Autism

Although ASD kids enjoy and benefit from playing sports and engaging in recreational activities, they require a slightly different approach than kids who aren’t on the spectrum. Individualized instruction and visual communication, for example, are important for most autistic kids.

Kids on the spectrum can quickly become overwhelmed with the sounds and tactile experiences associated with sports.

At Peers Academy, our evidence-based residential treatment program uses adventure and recreation to help our neurodiverse students learn emotional regulation skills, resilience and self-efficacy. Our students, under the direct supervision of our highly trained recreation therapists, have the opportunity to experience water sports, snow sports, camping and even rappelling. During the school week, students have self-directed time to enjoy the on-site swimming pool, rock climbing wall and horse stables.

Peers Academy, part of northern Utah’s Heritage Community, provides evidence-based residential treatment programs for neurodiverse adolescents and teens, including students with autism spectrum disorder. We use an individualized approach to treatment planning, tailoring each student’s program to help them achieve their objectives.

To learn more about Peers Academy and how we use sports and recreation to help adolescents and teens with autism, contact us today.