Physical Activity, Obesity Risk, and Physical Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parent Perspectives


American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)


Indianapolis, IN

Publication Date / Copyright Date

February 2015


Abstract Submitted: BACKGROUND: Childhood obesity and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at national epidemic levels and the numbers continue to rise. While each health issue alone is the focus of national attention, there is evidence of an even higher incidence of obesity in children with ASD. Broward County, Florida has higher than national averages of both autism and obesity, making these primary local public health and economic issues. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine parent/caregiver perspectives on obesity risk and physical activity in children with ASD, and parent awareness of the role of physical therapy in preventing overweight and obesity. METHOD: Sixty-six parents of children with ASD, ages 3 through 18 years, who reside in Broward County, Florida participated in the study. A mixed-methods sequential explanatory design was utilized. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected via Web-based survey and parent interviews. Closed-ended survey data were categorized and analyzed to yield response percentages. Open-ended responses and interview data were analyzed using thematic analy sis. RESULTS: Nearly half of the parents surveyed did not know that obesity rates are higher in children with ASD. Twenty-five percent reported physical activity rates for their child of less than one hour per day, while forty-two percent were not satisfied with their child’s level of physical activity. Nearly thirty percent observed their children having shortness of breath after physical activity. Parents who participated in the study described barriers that prevent their children with ASD from engaging in physical activity in social contexts at school or in the community. Barriers include limited opportunities, lack of training among staff, bullying, and cost. Although some children received physical therapy, parents had difficulty explaining the role of physical therapy in treating children with ASD beyond basic strengthening and sensory integration therapy. CONCLUSION: Participants in this study represent a small subset of parents who have children with ASD in one county in Florida. The results cannot be generalized. Nevertheless, the results indicate the existence of parent concerns and lack of awareness regarding physical activity, obesity, and the role of physical activity in this local population, and supports the need for additional, and larger scale research in this area.


Physical Therapy

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