Unlocking Potential: The Benefits of Pilates for K...

Unlocking Potential: The Benefits of Pilates for Kids with Autism

In recent years, the integration of holistic approaches to support individuals with autism has gained traction, and one such method showing promising results is Pilates. At the Kids Heart Pilates (KHP) clinic, located in the heart of Ashgrove and Caboolture, our small boutique pediatric exercise physiology clinic is dedicated to providing specialized, one-on-one Pilates and group sessions for children with autism. We will explore the unique advantages of Pilates for kids on the autism spectrum, with a focus on individualized sessions tailored to their specific needs.

Understanding Autism and Physical Activity:

Children with autism often face challenges in sensory processing, social interaction, and motor coordination. Motor skills are just one part of children’s development and include fine (using small muscles) and gross motor skills (using big muscles). Children with autism often have difficulty with coordination of both fine and gross motor skills, balance, flexibility, and speed. Unfortunately, these higher rates of motor skill impairments often mean that children with autism are less likely to participate in physical activity. However, several studies indicate that physical activity is an effective approach to improving motor skill competence, social skills, and communication skills (Hassani et al., 2020). Studies have also found that physical activity improves restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and social skills of children with autism (Toscano et al., 2022). Therefore, engaging in physical activities can play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges by promoting sensory integration, fostering social engagement, and enhancing motor skills. Pilates, with its emphasis on controlled movements, breathing, and body awareness, offers a well-rounded approach that can be particularly beneficial for children with autism.

Tailored Approach in Individual Sessions:

One of the key strengths of Pilates lies in its adaptability to individual needs. At KHP, our experienced pediatric exercise physiologists work closely with each child, designing personalized Pilates sessions that cater to their unique strengths and challenges. Individual sessions allow for a tailored approach, enabling us to focus on specific goals such as improving coordination, enhancing balance, developing core strength, and emotional regulation.

Sensory Integration and Body Awareness:

Pilates promotes sensory integration by incorporating movements that engage various muscle groups and stimulate different sensory receptors (Hertzog et al., 2019; Potts et al., 2001). For children with autism, this can contribute to improved body awareness, coordination, and proprioception (Hertzog et al., 2019). It has been discovered that by incorporating sensory integration into sessions, our clinic recognizes the importance of creating a sensory-friendly environment, ensuring that children feel comfortable and supported throughout their Pilates sessions.

Social Interaction in a One-on-One Setting:

While group activities can be overwhelming for some children with autism, one-on-one or small-group Pilates sessions offer a more controlled and personalized setting. This provides a natural environment for building relationships, increasing the opportunities for interaction, engaging in cooperative play for teamwork, and presenting more opportunities to communicate with others, which are all beneficial for social interaction (Zhao et al., 2018). This also allows for a strong therapeutic alliance to be built between the child and the pediatric exercise physiologist, fostering trust and engagement. Through positive interactions, children may develop social skills and build confidence, contributing to their overall well-being.

The Role of Pilates in Emotional Regulation:

Children with autism may experience challenges in emotional regulation with high levels of disruptive behaviors, self-absorption, and hyperactivity being associated with emotional problems and posing a substantial challenge to daily living (Mazefsky et al., 2013). Physical activity and exercise have a positive influence on emotional regulation and behavioral functioning in children with autism (Tsa et al., 2020). Pilates, with its emphasis on mindful breathing and controlled movements, provides a platform for emotional expression and regulation. Through regular sessions, children can develop coping mechanisms, reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Reference List:
Hassani, F., Shahrbanian, S., Shahidi, S. H., & Sheikh, M. (2022). Playing games can improve physical performance in children with autism. International Journal of Developmental Disabilities, 68(2), 219–226.
Hertzog, D., Cermak, S., & Bar-Shalita, T. (2019). Sensory modulation, physical activity and participation in daily occupations in young children. Canadian journal of occupational therapy. Revue canadienne d’ergotherapie, 86(2), 106–113.
Mazefsky, C. A., & White, S. W. (2014). Emotion regulation: concepts & practice in autism spectrum disorder. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 23(1), 15–24.
POTTS, J. T. (2001). Exercise and Sensory Integration. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 940(1), 221–236.
Toscano, C. V. A., Ferreira, J. P., Quinaud, R. T., Silva, K. M. N., Carvalho, H. M., & Gaspar, J. M. (2022). Exercise improves the social and behavioral skills of children and adolescent with autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry, 13, 1027799.
Tse A. C. Y. (2020). Brief Report: Impact of a Physical Exercise Intervention on Emotion Regulation and Behavioral Functioning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 50(11), 4191–4198.
Zhao, M., & Chen, S. (2018). The Effects of Structured Physical Activity Program on Social Interaction and Communication for Children with Autism. BioMed Research International, 2018, 13.

Empowering Health and Education: Meet Lizzy Dawson, the Heart Behind Kids Heart Pilates, Northside Allied Health and Lizzy Dawson the Pediatric Practitioner! Lizzy brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field of pediatric exercise and development, making her an invaluable resource for professionals and parents alike. Lizzy Dawson is a passionate and creative Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) and entrepreneur with over 14 years of experience in the health industry. She is the owner and director of Kids Heart Pilates and Northside Allied Health. More recently Liz has turned her hand to creating pediatric courses for educators and health professionals in an effort to address alarming statistics relating to childhood development in Australia. Holistic health and wellness sits at the core of Liz’s work and life ethos.



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