By: Guest Blogger Steven Becker,
Vice President, Health & Wellness Services,
Jewish Community Centers of North America
Recipient of the President’s Council on Fitness,
Sports & Nutrition 
2014 PCFSN Community Leadership Award

Everyone knows that childhood obesity rates are at an all time high.  Not everyone is aware that those numbers are significantly higher for children on the autism spectrum.  As many as two-thirds of teens on the autism spectrum are either overweight or obese, and there are many reasons for this significant increase1:

  • Children on the autism spectrum may have strong aversions to certain foods.
  • Some consume more sugar-sweetened drinks and snacks than children without autism.
  • Medications may lead to weight gain.
  • Oversensitivity to sights, sounds and tactile stimuli may diminish participation in fitness activities.
  • Limits and delays in motor coordination and planning can affect athletic participation.
  • Issues with communication and social interaction may interfere with the ability to partake in team sports.

Faced with all of these challenges, it is even more important that we are conscious and mindful to ensure that all children are able to participate in appropriate physical activity.  As Vice President of Health and Wellness Services for the Jewish Community Centers of North America, one of my responsibilities is to help JCCs with best practices in programming.  For the purposes of this article, I reached out to my colleagues to see what they are doing to facilitate inclusive and specific programming for children on the autism spectrum.  The response was unbelievable! Here is just a small sample:

This is just a small sample of some of the wonderful programming available.  Remember to check with the professionals who work with your child to make sure the activity is appropriate.  Make sure the coach/trainer is skilled to work with children with autism.  Whether it’s at a JCC, a YMCA, a park and recreation facility, or a unique local program, there is no reason for our children to be left on the sidelines.

*NYCA has collaborated with the Jewish Community Centers of North America to provide these fitness suggestions to parents of children and adults with autism. Contact your local JCC for more information on classes and programs.

1“Finding Balance: Obesity and Children with Special Needs.”, November 2011.