How Does Physical Activity Benefit Kids with Down Syndrome and Autism?

The Ajvar 5K is fundraising for Vera, an organization to aid children with Down Syndrome (DS) and Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASD) in Macedonia, and is an excellent way to not only benefit the children in Macedonia but to also engage the DS and ASD community in America to further strengthen the Macedonian-American relations. The Ajvar 5K will engage children with DS and/or ASDs in physical activity and exposing to a group sport along with bolstering their spirits, and enhancing social interactions and community engagement.

These outcomes will aid children with DS and/or ASD tremendously. Children diagnosed with Down Syndrome (DS) and/or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are subject to significant health consequences, one of which being obesity; a growing prevalence amongst children worldwide and increasingly so for children DS and/or ASDs. Children with DS and/or ASDs who are obese may develop further health consequences, therefore families, communities, and clinicians should work toward combating obesity amongst children with DS and/or ASDs. “Obesity in children with ASDs is 30.4% compared with 23.6% in age-matched children without ASDs. Among children with chronic disabilities, the prevalence of obesity is greater in children with ASDs than in children with other developmental disabilities.” There are 4 potential factors contributing to obesity in individuals with ASDs: low physical activity levels, poor nutrition, medication use and metabolic abnormalities, and lack of knowledge or awareness. Physical activity levels and nutrition directly affect the balance between energy expenditure and intake and contribute to obesity in both children who are developing typically and those with disabilities (ncbi).

In addition to low physical activity, children with DS and/or ASD may experience poor motor skills including motor coordination and balance, which can limit their activity choices. For example, the inability to perform complex motor activities may lead to watching the television or using the computer as an alternative, which also alleviates the pressures stemming from social situations. Furthermore, environmental factors at the family or community level such as lack of time, resources and/or support could affect the physical activity behaviors of individuals with ASDs.

“Besides improving fitness, motor function, and behavior in individuals with Autism, among the most important advantages of physical activity are the social implications of participating in sports and exercise.” Thankfully the Ajvar 5K is a step in the right direction for social and community engagement for children with DS and/or ASDs along with physical health benefits. On behalf of the Ajvar 5K team, once again we would like to thank all of our volunteers, donors and sponsors for all the time, energy and donations you have poured into helping our children in Macedonia and for helping make the annual Ajvar 5K happen.