A young boy was jumping up and down on a trampoline outside his house one day. He wasn’t necessarily doing any tricks like flips or sit-to-stand, but rather he was focused on the rhythm of bouncing up and down, up and down. It was interesting watching his focus and control when knowing that this same child was recently diagnosed with ADHD and Aspersers syndrome, one of the names associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For him, it was the movement he needed at that time of day. What he was also doing was building his body and his mind.
Autism is a disorder that affects 1 in 88 children in which 1 in 54 are boys. Science and research continue to learn more about the complex disorder of brain development. According to Autism Speaks, a resource for individuals and families living with autism, ASD (the general term for disorders) can cause “difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” People who fall under the umbrella of ASD can be anywhere from high functioning with exceptional talents academically or dealing with significant disabilities that do not allow them to live independently.
Children and adults are learning how to treat the symptoms associated with ASD so that those who are “on the spectrum” can function better in school and society. Early diagnosis is one of, if not the most, critical way to help a child make their environment less confusing or challenging. With a diagnosis, children can begin their education and therapy to give them the tools to succeed.
Because the symptoms of autism vary, an individual’s treatment plan will likely not be the same as others with autism. Therapy starting as early as age 2 can address concerns in speech, language, and physical development where the brain needs more stimulation for development. Families are often part of the intervention. It can include group play for practice in social interactions, the use of technology to build vocabulary, or equipment to help deal with sensory sensitivity.
Depending on the child’s needs, a trampoline may be included as part of their therapy. There are two types of therapy that may utilize a trampoline. Occupational therapy addresses physical and motor skills, particularly those that will help them be productive in life. Physical therapy works to improve muscle tune, balance, and coordination.
Sensory integration therapy provides those with autism the ability to process sensory information including movement, touch, smell, sight and sound. According to Autism Speaks, the trampoline is one of the pieces of equipment that a therapist will use to help them improve how the brain processes and organizes incoming information through physical movement.
A child with autism may struggle with something called proprioceptive input. This means they have difficulty interpreting sensations from muscles, joints, ligaments, or tendons. In cases in which they may be either hyposensitive to touch, they may constantly touch items or apply too much pressure when writing or coloring. A trampoline may allow them to use the move in appropriate ways with up and down movement. It can also wake up their body and their mind before starting a project or assignment.
Another struggle for an individual with autism may be with vestibular input. This means they are over or under sensitive to balance and movement sensations. Whether they are thrill seekers and have trouble staying in their seats or need work controlling their ability to maintain their balance, a trampoline is one way to give them the activity they need to work on this sensory development. It allows for big movement, development of muscles in the legs and core, and a fun way to take a break from less active tasks.
A child with autism may also seek a means of coping with stress or anxiety. In some cases, they seek certain sensations in order to calm down. In the case of trampolines, a large outdoor model or a small indoor model provides the movement that gives relief before stress leads to a complete meltdown. It can also be a reward after a job or task is done.
A trampoline is recommended by many organizations and professionals in the area of autism, Aspersers syndrome, and ASD. Families can keep a trampoline in their backyard. For indoor use, a mini trampoline is ideal for a sensory room or even part of a room where it will be used most. Classrooms designed for students with emotional or behavioral needs may already have a personal mini trampoline for their students or have the equipment on their wish list.
Businesses that promote fun and fitness with indoor trampolines and inflatables understand that children with ASD and their families want to participate in such a social outing but may have sensory issues. Sky High Sports is one company that will hold monthly jumps for their customers who want to jump, but with lights that are not as bright and no music that they typically play for jumping sessions. Gymnastic centers with trampolines may also open their facilities for similar open jump times for children with special needs.
A trampoline is fun for the whole family and promotes physical fitness, but for individuals with ASD, it can be a critical factor in their brain development. The equipment can be part of the ongoing therapy or a means of coping with the stresses and challenges life with ASD can bring. If you go into a classroom or home that strives to meet the needs of a child with ASD, chances are, there will be a trampoline nearby.
Facts from AutismSpeaks.Org and the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community.