Research Study Abstract

Comparison of Physical Activity Levels Between Children With and Without Autistic Spectrum Disorders

  • Published on May 2003

Children are primarily physically active through formal and informal play. Children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulty engaging in these types of activities because they experience communication and behavior limitations inherent to the condition. These social deficits may cause them to be less active than children without ASD, due to decreased involvement in play with peers.

To compare physical activity levels between children with and without ASD.

Fifteen children with ASD (10 males, 5 females: 9.5 ± .9 yrs), and 13 children without ASD (8 males, 5 females; 8.8 ± .0 yrs) participated. Physical activity levels were measured with a uniaxial accelerometer (MTI Health Services Model 7164). The device was worn during waking hours for 4 weekdays and 1 weekend day. Activity was categorized according to light, moderate, vigorous, and very vigorous levels. Mann-Whitney tests were used to analyze between group differences. Significance was set at p?.05.

Children with ASD spent less time in moderate activity compared to children without ASD (98.8 ± .8 vs. 132.7 ± .4 min). There were no differences in light, vigorous, or very vigorous activity times, or weekend vs. weekday activity levels between groups. Children with and without ASD engaged in similar amounts of weekly Physical Education (PE), and most PE time was spent in light activity. Children with ASD participated in significantly less recess time each week than peers without ASD (27.1 ± .9 vs. 32.2 ± .3 min). Children with ASD were also less moderately active during recess compared to peers without ASD (9.6 ± .0 vs 17.2 ± .3 min). Neither group engaged in desirable amounts of vigorous or very vigorous activity.

Children with ASD may be less moderately active than peers without ASD because they are allowed fewer opportunities to be active. Low moderate activity levels during recess, but not PE, suggest that children with ASD may also need some degree of instruction to facilitate increased activity levels in free play settings.


  • Rosser, D.D.
  • Frey, G.C.


  • Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

  • Indiana University, Bloomington, IN


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise