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Sleep and Exercise for Children and Teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome

Physical education classes are usually a nightmare for a child with Asperger Syndrome. Most have awkward gaits and cannot run fast. Their poor motor coordination means they cannot throw or catch balls, balance themselves, or master movements like hopping or skipping.

Besides being unable to perform most activities required in gym class, some Aspies may be overwhelmed by the smell of the locker room. The coach’s whistle and the yelling in the swimming pool may be painful to the ears. Others cannot stand to take showers. Many Aspies are unable to button themselves or tie their shoelaces without help.

Aspies often have trouble following a gym teacher’s spoken directions, especially if there is more than one part to them, such as “Choose a partner and line up against the wall.” They may be unable to imitate the teacher’s motor activity, especially if it is modeled as a mirror image.

Competitive sports often cause trouble, because Aspies can be extremely rule-oriented. They may have rigid ideas about how a game should be played and be unable to “change course midstream.” They may tantrum if they are not first at bat, or if their team loses.

Finally and most importantly, Aspies with high pain tolerance can be injured in sports and not report it to their teachers. There have been many stories of Aspies with broken arms and legs who went on playing the game.

For all these reasons, many parents of Aspies often request “Adapted Physical Education.” These are special classes with activities appropriate for their child’s special needs. Some schools will allow parents to substitute participation in outside activities such as bowling for attendance in gym classes.

Many Aspies do not like “roughhouse.” They may have fears of playground equipment. Many prefer sedentary activities and like to play alone. For example, one three-year-old with Asperger Syndrome spends all day quietly lining up his toy cars to match the sequence in his mother’s car pool line at school. This means it can be hard for parents to get their children to exercise.

Many parents hire physical therapists to work with their children individually at home. Some report that a little “rough house” helps their child not only physically but also socially. You can also purchase special equipment for “proprioception training” over the Internet. After-school programs at the YMCA or individual sports like karate and swimming are good choices for Aspies. Another simple strategy is to have your child do physical chores such as making his bed or running upstairs to fetch a toy – anything that gets him moving physically is helpful.

Sleep Issues

Children with Asperger Syndrome are often hard to put to bed. They may sleepwalk or have problems staying asleep. Some sleep too much, others too little.

The reasons Aspies have trouble falling asleep are fears, obsessive thoughts, compulsions such as hand-washing or fiddling with their lights, reactions to medications, or simply wanting to stay up with their parents and siblings.

Just as they are too restless to go to bed, Aspies often have trouble waking up. They will mope around in the morning and be unable to focus on getting ready for school and other chores.

A child’s sleep problems can affect his parents’ marriage. Most therapists tell parents not to let the child sleep in their bed, and to take turns getting up with him. That way each parent gets a full night’s sleep every other night. It is best to teach the child to stay in his bed and not wander around the house. Also, do not allow him to skip school because he missed sleep.

Some parents enforce a strict bedtime and a regular bedtime routine as a way of calming their child for sleep. Another good trick is to use flannel sheets and to experiment with pajama fabrics until you find one that your child tolerates. Enclosing the child in a sleeping bag or under a bed tent can help. So does playing “white noise” in the background.


REFERENCES

“Adapted Physical Education,” the website for physical education teachers, see http://www.pecentral.org/adapted/adaptedmenu.html

Bashe, Patricia and Barbara Kirby. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.

Kennedy, Diane. ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.

Myles, Brenda; Cook, Catherine; Miller, Nancy; Rinner, Louann; Robbins, Lisa. Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Issues. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 2000.

Myles, Brenda and Jack Southwick. Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 1999.

Powers, Michael. Children with Autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000.

Sohn, Alan and Cathy Grayson. Parenting Your Asperger Child. New York: Perigee Books, 2005.

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