Autism spectrum disorder (autism) is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social skills, communication and repetitive or restricted interests [1
]. Research has established that symptoms of movement disturbance are also present [2
]. Although motor skill difficulties have started to receive more attention in autism literature, physical activity patterns have received less. Regrettably children with autism have not been spared from the obesity epidemic sweeping the United States [4
]. Disturbing statistics suggest that children with autism are 40% more likely to be overweight and obese compared to their typically developed peers [4
]. Increasing physical activity is a primary health objective in the United States [5
]. Research has just started to explore the physical activity patterns of children with autism [6
]. With that said the paucity of research in this area, combined with limitations to previous studies, makes it difficult to draw conclusions about physical activity patterns and associated health outcomes.
Nevertheless, even amidst the lack of physical activity and autism literature, one clear result is the positive influence of physical activity [9
]. Following bouts of physical activity, children with autism experienced decreases in negative behavior such as stereotypies and increased positive behaviors, such as time on task [10
]. More vigorous bouts of physical activity have further amplified positive behavior change in comparison to bouts of light or moderate physical activity [9
]. Structured programs, for instance physical education, appear to foster more physical activity compared to unstructured environments, such as recess [8
]. Pan and Frey (2006) found that children with autism had a similar trajectory of physical activity across age compared to typically developing children; unfortunately this indicated that physical inactivity became more prominent with increased age.
Over the past few years research in both physical activity and autism has been rigorous, leading to more advanced methods of assessment and sampling. Best practice recommendations for objective physical activity monitoring suggest the use of accelerometry consisting of at least 10 hours of monitor wear per day [11
]. Previous objective physical activity research in children with autism was limited to 8 hours of accelerometer monitoring per day [7
]. Since Pan & Frey's (2006) publication, research in physical activity has progressed beyond studying patterns of moderate to vigorous physical activity and more interest has begun to emerge in measuring sedentary physical activity patterns [12
]. Finally, autism research has focused on sampling strategies inclusive of the high incidence of intellectual disability which exists within autism rather than sampling only 'high functioning' individuals [13
The purpose of the present study is to describe both the sedentary and moderate to vigorous physical activity patterns of a cross-sectional sample of children aged 9-18 years with autism spectrum disorder as they age.