It’s a tough task convincing any kid to do the minimum amount of exercise each day, and that’s even before adding autism to the mix. Depending on where your son or daughter is placed on the spectrum, you may struggle to convince them that exercise is doable, valuable, and even fun. With recent research suggesting that exercise is one of most effective autism therapies out there, it becomes ever more pressing to promote an active lifestyle for kids with ASD. Luckily, there are many ways to make exercise more fun for children with autism. Read on, and your child will be well on their way to becoming a willing athlete.

Make it a family activity

If your child feels as if they’re the only one in the family who has to suffer through fitness, they’ll be even less likely to develop a positive attitude towards exercise in the long run. Modeling good fitness behavior not only normalizes physical exercise for your child but is beneficial for the entire family’s health. Moreover, going for a hike or playing a ball game as a family will allow your kid to get acquainted with the social challenge of group sports before being thrown together with people that he or she may not know quite as well.

To further familiarize your child with exercise and fitness, it pays to bring up a family of avid sports watchers. Whether it’s attending a local rugby game every Saturday, making it a tradition to follow the televised Olympics, or simply watching the sports news every night, little rituals like these will help to your autistic son or daughter to forge positive associations with exercise even before they are fully immersed in it themselves.

Try group sports

Looking for an easy way to distract your child from the fact that they’re exercising? From soccer to water polo, group sports offer a wonderful context for learning social skills, with the preoccupations of turn-taking, role-playing, and interpersonal communication sure to divert your child’s attention from the fitness component itself. Studies suggest that team sports improve attention and behavioral

Issues at the same time as they help children to develop a sense of camaraderie, so if you’re hankering after an indirect form of autism treatment to supplement one-on-one therapy, then enrolling your child in a group sport of their choice is a smart option. Of course, every autism diagnosis is different, and for some children traditional group sports just aren’t even an option. In this case, consider sports like swimming and gymnastics, where your child is still part of a team, but they get to contribute independently rather than working together.

Be encouraging

For kids who are self-conscious about their motor skills (indeed, over 80% of autistic children struggle in this regard), any kind of group sports may make them feel less-than-confident in comparison to the rest of the team. Before throwing them into this kind of environment, it may be a good idea to start them off with less competitive forms of exercise, such as yoga, hiking, or even personal training. Helping your child to enhance their coordination and existing motor skills in these “safe” settings — while, of course, encouraging them all the way — will equip them with the physical and social confidence that they require in order to participate in a more intensive group sport. Consider purchasing a trampoline, as this is also an easy and effective way to introduce your child to exercise — it’s low impact, it helps with balance and coordination, and it’s a great anti-stress and anxiety method.

To speed up your child’s progression, consider implementing a rewards system. Research shows that autistic children respond well to reward-based learning, and this certainly holds true where exercise is concerned. You’ll want to steer clear of anything involving junk food, but suitable rewards such as free time on TV or a device, going to a movie of their choice, or letting them choose a healthy meal for dinner, are certainly warranted whenever your child makes a significant step in the right direction.

Take some time to work out what your kid likes

As parents, we naturally want the best for our children, and that can mean that we automatically opt for the types of exercise that are scientifically proven to be most beneficial (think hydrotherapy or specialized ASD movement classes). If it’s impossible to persuade your child to get on board with these fitness pursuits, however, then it might be time to implement another kind of reward system — the exercise kind. Your child may have an existing penchant for dancing or diving that you may not even be aware of yet, so take the time to ask those questions, and offer up an hour or two of their favorite exercise per week provided that they complete the more monotonous types of exercise therapy, too.