Physical exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing stereotypic behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One possible mechanism concerns the matching hypothesis between exercise and behavior. The present study sought to examine this matching exercise-behavior relationship.
Participants (N = 21, 17 males and 4 females, Mage = 11.07 ± 1.44 yr, Mheight = 1.46 ± 0.99 m, and Mweight = 40.60 ± 8.25 kg), with observable forms of hand-flapping and body-rocking stereotypic behaviors, underwent three separate days of conditions, one for the control condition, one for the 10-min ball-tapping exercise condition, and one for the 10-min jogging condition, in randomized order. The frequency of each type of stereotypic behavior was video-recorded from 15 min before to 60 min after the exercise.
Results revealed that only hand-flapping stereotypic behaviors were significantly reduced in the ball-tapping exercise condition (p <.017), while only body-rocking stereotypic behaviors were significantly reduced in the jogging exercise condition (p <.017). However, the behavioral benefit diminished at 45 min after the respective exercise.
Physical exercise should be topographically-matched with stereotypic behavior in order to produce desirable behavioral benefits in children with ASD.