By: Susan Russo

Active children are happy children. At least, as a mom of four, that is my belief. As parents we all recognize that (as a rule) busy children are less likely to become bored, and thus exhibit negative or inappropriate behavior. I believe that this holds true for typically developing children as well as their peers with special needs.

More of the time it’s a “trial and error” process, but sometimes your child lets you know in a clear way what they enjoy doing. Soccer and basketball were “unh-bleh” activities in our family, however anything theater, music, or dance related were activities that they enjoyed learning which they continued to participate in for many, many years into adulthood.

I’ve seen this as an administrator at The Theresa Academy of Performing Arts over  the past few years as well. We have had students who were clearly NOT interested in the arts, and so we suggested the parents try soccer, baseball, basketball, etc… and in most cases, we were right!

Here are a few tips that are useful for neuro-typical as well as those children with special needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD] in particular):

  • Select activities on an individual basis (considering interests and abilities). And remember that when a child enjoys an activity, it is more likely to be practiced with minimal behavioral difficulties.
  • Allow the child to have a choice of activity. This can lead to improved participation and reduce disruptive behaviors.
  • Select activities that are age appropriate.
  • What activities are common with the child’s peers in your community? Surfing is big here in Long Beach, while skiing may be more popular in counties and states farther north of where we are located.
  • Many of our families have found activities in which the entire family can participate in. For one of our families it’s bike riding, and another family goes skiing.
  • Although physical activities are a natural venue for promoting positive social interaction (very important for all children, particularly those with ASD), make sure that the social/cognitive demands are equally matched to the child. Activities that are very complicated (lacrosse, basketball or perhaps even hockey) may not be suitable for all children.
  • Are these activities competitive (like most team sports)? Some children would prefer less/non-competitive activities.

As parents, we know our children better than anyone, so get out there and get active. Find something that will hold their interest and get them moving… even better if it’s something that the family can do together AND HAVE SOME FUN!

The Theresa Academy of the Performing Arts

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