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Association Between Engagement In Physical Activity And Adaptive Behavior In Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

R. Neville, C. Draper, Takesha J. Cooper, M. Abdullah, Kimberley D. Lakes
Published 2021 · Psychology

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Abstract This study explored whether frequency of engagement in physical activity (PA) was associated with differences in adaptive behavior (i.e., communication, socialization, daily living, and motor skills) among young children recent diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A total of 118 children (32 ± 4 months; 72% boys) underwent physician specialist's evaluation at a university-based neurodevelopmental clinic, alongside their parent (35 ± 7 years; 81% mothers). Children were assessed using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Mullen Scales of Early Learning, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, and a physician examination. Parents completed the Weekly Physical Activity Checklist for their child, as well as a self-report depression and demographic questionnaire. After controlling for known confounders, there was a small positive association between frequency of engagement in PA and adaptive behavior (Cohen's d = 0.36, 95%CL = ±0.32) (p = 0.027). There was also a small positive association between PA and three of the four subdomains of adaptive behavior: socialization (d = 0.32, 95%CL ±0.27) (p = 0.018), daily living (d = 0.29, 95%CL ±0.25) (p = 0.026), and motor skills (d = 0.31, 95%CL ±0.29) (p = 0.038). Frequency of engagement in PA was not statistically significantly associated with children's communication skills (d = 0.09, 95%CL ±0.29) (p = 0.547). Children with ASD often exhibit delays in adaptive functioning. The associations between PA and adaptive skills observed in our study signals the potential contribution of increased PA as part of early intervention for children with such neurodevelopmental disorders to achieve greater functional outcomes.
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