Sports and Autism

There are numerous therapies dedicated to improve communication, cognitive and motor skills of children with autism. As the child progresses in developing and enhancing these skills, parents and care givers alike should not forget that therapies should also be fun. Keeping the therapies light and stress free accommodates the child’s learning all the better.  

One form of therapy for a child with developmental disability is sports. Allowing the child to participate in fun games will pave the way for new life experiences and at the same time further enrich motor, communication and coordination skills. But not all sport games can be beneficial to a child with autism. Parents and caregivers should always be careful as to which sports to encourage.

In choosing what sports the child should be exposed to, here are some pointers:

1. The developmental age and not the physical age of the child should always be a priority.

2.  Assess the child’s interest in the game. If possible, allow the child to be part of the decision-making process.

3.  Preparing the child prior to the actual game play will help in lessening anxieties and avoid overpowering the child’s interest by giving complex instructions all at the same time. Visual cues, video modelling and the use of social stories will aid in the description and the explanation of the game rules.

4.  Initially, choose a sport that focuses on individual play while still being part of a team. Karate and swimming are great examples. Children involved in these sports are part of a team and yet they perform as individuals.

 5. Choosing a sport that has “routines” is best for a child with autism. It will help the child focus on his own body and enhance his or her coordination skills.

An example would be a child’s involvement in karate lessons. The different steps or poses to be learned can be seen as routines in the sense that the child would do the same steps over and over again, usually at the same time and in the same order.

Children with autism can sometimes be irritable and develop a hypersensitivity to noise and touch interaction. These things may lead them to be aggressively defensive or throw tantrums. Letting the karate instructor know about these and other risks can aid in his or her therapy.

1. If possible, have someone do one-on-one sessions with the child regarding the sport program first. These will track the progress of the child in terms of game familiarization and readiness. Gradual introduction to group play is a must to prevent overwhelming the child.

2. Support the child in the field of sports that he or she chooses. By letting the child know that everyone is encouraging him or her to excel and enjoy the game, the child will eventually gain self-confidence that can be a good foundation in the child’s transition to adulthood.

3.  Letting the instructors or people in-charge know the special needs of the child with autism will help prepare them in handling possible difficulties that may arise during the course of the play. It will also assist them in teaching the child in the manner that is best for the child.


Sport and Dev. Sport in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved August 31, 2001, from the United Nations

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