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Exercise and Movement (EXM)

Interventions that use physical exertion, specific motor skills/ techniques, or mindful movement to target a variety of skills and behaviors.

Evidence Based
Ages: Skip to Evidence

Steps for Implementation

Step 1. Assessing Activity Level

  1. It is important to assess the activity level of children and adolescents with autism. Quantitative measures for physical activity can include heart rate monitoring, pedometry, electronic screen devices, accelerometry, and inclinometry. Qualitative measures of physical activity include logbooks, survey questionnaires, and diaries. This baseline will allow us to evaluate the efficacy of physical activity.
  2. Analyzing typical problem behaviors before the introduction of exercise will also allow us to have a reference to evaluate post intervention.

Step 2. Warming Up

The sessions often begin with a warm-up activity. Warm- up activities can include jumping rope, doing jumping jacks, etc. to ready the learner’s body and nervous system for the workout.

Step 3. Exercising

The major portion of the session can include indoor or outdoor aerobic activities, resistance training, and/or stretching, or aquatic exercises done at a swimming pool. Aerobic training includes cycling, treadmill, exergaming (exercising while playing a video game), and aquatic exercises. Resistance training programs target upper limb and lower limb muscles by using machines, free weights, and body weight. Most studies implement exercise training two to three times per week with durations varying from 20 minutes to an hour.

Step 4. Cooling Down

Following the exercise session, it is ideal to complete a cool-down activity to smoothly transition from exercise back to a steady state of rest. Some examples of cool-down activities are stretching and meditating.

Step 5. Post-Intervention Assessment

Post intervention assessments of physical activity and challenging behaviors are used to evaluate the efficacy of the exercise program. These assessments can be done daily or weekly and may be completed through self-reporting or by parents or teachers/instructors.

Research and Outcomes

Research Summary

Age Range: 3-18

Skills: Communication, social, play, cognitive, school readiness, academic/pre-academic, adaptive/self-help, challenging/interfering behavior, motor

Settings: Home, school, community

Evidence Rating: Evidence Based

The information found in the Research Summary table is updated following a literature review of new research and these ages, skills, and settings reflects information from this review.

Outcomes Matrix

The Outcomes Matrix shows outcome areas by age for which this evidence based practice is effective
Age: 0-5 6-14 15-22
Academic/Pre-academic Yes
Challenging/Interfering Behavior Yes Yes Yes
Communication Yes Yes Yes
Joint Attention
Mental Health
Motor Yes Yes Yes
Play Yes
School Readiness Yes Yes Yes
Social Yes Yes Yes
More about Intervention Outcomes

Exercise and movement (EXM) interventions incorporate the use of physical exertion and/or mindful movement to target a variety of skills and behaviors. Exercise can be used as an antecedent activity to improve performance in a task or behavior, or it can be used to increase physical fitness and motor skills. Movement activities can include sports/recreation activities, martial arts, yoga, or other mindful practices that focus on specific sets of motor skills and techniques. EXM interventions may incorporate a warm-up/cool down and aerobic, strength, stretching, and/or skillful motor activities and be performed in individual or group/team-based settings. EXM is often used in conjunction with prompting, modeling, reinforcement, and visual supports (Steinbrenner, et al., 2020).