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Commentary on “The Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Academic Engagement in Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder”

vander Net, Janjaap PT, PhD, PCS; Sprong, Maaike PT, MSc, PCS

Pediatric Physical Therapy: July 2011 - Volume 23 - Issue 2 - p 193
doi: 10.1097/PEP.0b013e3182193630
Clinical Bottom Line

University Children's Hospital—UMC, Utrecht, The Netherlands (vander Net) (Sprong)

“How should I apply this information?”

For pediatric physical therapists who work in the school environment, the message that aerobic exercise seems to positively influence academic performance and adequate classroom behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder is promising. However, the results apply primarily to academic performance and less so for the typical classroom behaviors, that is, on-task behavior and, especially, stereotypic behaviors did not change. With these findings, preferably academic classes should start after a bout of physical exercise. It is less obvious that aerobic exercise would benefit classes that demand on-task activities or social activities in which stereotypic behavior may interfere.

“What should I be mindful about in applying this information?”

All 9 children spent 3 weeks in both the intervention group and the control group. It is unclear in which order this took place and whether the order has influenced the outcome. The study describes the statistical significant improvement of “correct responding” (the surrogate for “academic performance” in this study), but is this also clinically relevant? Another question is whether the improvement in “correct responding” would also be seen in other academic performances. And, will there be a cumulative dose-response effect after a longer period of intervention? To answer this question, more research is needed. When applying this intervention in real-time class situations, it is important to have a better understanding of what the teachers' experience is of the improvements described in this study. Would teachers welcome this intervention as part of the daily class routines and is this time investment worthwhile? The behavioral changes that were registered were minor and yet we all know that these may make the difference between successfully participating in a classroom and failing in the school system. The reader is left with a notion of a promising clue for children with autism spectrum disorders that experience daily challenges in meeting society's expectations, but there is still work to be done.

Janjaap vander Net, PT, PhD, PCS

University Children's Hospital—

UMC, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Maaike Sprong, PT, MSc, PCS

University Children's Hospital—

UMC, Utrecht, The Netherlands

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.