Sports, Autism and ADHD…What to try with these children.

Over the years, I’ve had many parents of children with Autism or ADHD say that their children have trouble fitting in in many sports. They’ve often felt desperate to find something where their child could be accepted and succeed. Sports require a lot of higher-level social skills and attention to detail. Often, children with Autism really struggle with social skills and may miss important cues from their teammates. In return, as the kids get older they often get laughed at or picked last for teams. As a result, they often jump from sport to sport trying a new one each year.

Despite this, the importance of physical activity rich in proprioceptive input (strong input to our muscles and joints) is very important for children with autism and ADHD. They can often have a lower threshold for this sense and crave it and need it for their bodies and minds to work effectively. This is why you may often see a child with Autism running and crashing into mats or at an extreme, hitting their head on a wall. The same reason why many people with ADHD crave high-intensity sports that involve running and crashing (hockey, rugby, football). They are seeking strong proprioceptive input.

My own husband who was diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD struggled himself with sports and was often drawn to more independent sports such as canoeing, skiing, hiking, and snowboarding but which still gave him the proprioceptive input he needed for his brain to stay alert and focused. He ended up excelling at these sports and still practices most of them today.

I often told parents to try Karate with their children, as it was independent but could provide the proprioceptive intensity that is needed. It also can be slowed down to allow a child who is more awkward or clumsy to go at their own pace.

When I saw this link for Autism Karate I thought the idea was amazing. I encourage families to check this out!

Other sports that have been successful for parents of children with Autism and ADHD are swimming, Canoeing (Pointe-Claire Canoe Club), skiing (both downhill and cross country), hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding.

If your child continues to have trouble coordinating their body and really struggling with sports, you may want to consider working with an Occupational Therapist who specializes in Sensory Integration Therapy to help develop better coordination and sensory regulation.