Hi, I'm a Pilates teacher and i have a young daughter with Autism. Has anyone had any experience with exercise helping with emotions, concentration or anxiety? And does anyone know if there is any training out there for exercise and autism?

Many thanks 


  • Hello Kate, I have found Tai Chi and qi gong good for exercise, and the breathing regime is good for anxiety. It's nice and easy for children but also surprisingly effective as a keep fit exercise, both in body and mind.

  • Hmmm... the way modern Tai Chi is done in the west, it can be relaxing and promote mindfulness etc. However, Tai Chi (Quan) is a martial art, so if done correctly it can (initially) be physically agonising and exhausting (not a bad thing if you wanna take the edge off your autism!). Plus, a lot of Tai Chi classes incorporate meditational practices too, and also stuff like Qi Qong etc.

    Indeed, it's actually not unheard of for autistics to get involved in martial arts. It makes sense when you think about it - the hours and hours of familiarising oneself with an alien system (e.g. new movements, new stylised behaviour, an interesting history as well as strange language etc), doing the same stylised movements again-and-again, literally countless thousands of times. Plus, it can channel aggression into something more acceptable and less harmful.

    It's common for autistics to be quite physically uncoordinated and 'clumsy'. So re-learning how to ground yourself in your body again, and master your physical movements, can be wonderful. Plus, you get to socialise with like-minded people who are fascinated by the strange subject (i.e. eastern martial practice).

    So, whilst martial arts in itself is not geared for autistics, the discipline, structure and repetition can be appealing.

    Personally, I engage in High Intensity Training (H.I.T) at the gym... which I call 'C.P.R' - 'Controlled Pressure Release'. I go to the gym with my music blaring as loud as possible on my headphones (specifically with a tempo for fast cardio, usually ramped-up house or techno music in excess of 160+ bpm), and do very intensive cardio work on the likes of the treadmill or spin-bike. This is usually when I feel the build-up of pressure, whereby I know I'm moving closer to 'meltdown' - hence I need to release the pressure in a controlled manner, rather than have an inappropriate outburst at friends or colleagues etc. The benefits for me include:


    • The loud music drowns out my over-abundance of complex thoughts that I'm increasingly struggling to process (funnily, it's soothing)
    • I'm exercising so hard that I struggle to breathe, let alone think - thus again taking me 'out of my head and grounding me in my body'
    • After exercise, I'm physically exhausted - whereby even if I haven't solved my problems, I've significantly drained the pressure and build up of anxiety by taking the physical stimulus out of it, and I usually sleep a lot better too
    • It burns a helluva lot more calories too!

    It strikes me that a lot of autistic individuals shy away from dedicated exercise. I dunno, maybe it's because we don't have the same connection with our bodies. But for me, that's the appeal and beauty of it - as you get to revel in something new, and train your physical self whilst channelling your anxieties and pressure into something far more productive!

  • I've always done a lot of what you might call strenuous exercise.  For many years, from my early 20s up until my mid-50s, long-distance running was my passion.  I could never jog!  It always had to be full-on, sending my heart rate up close to 200 bpm.  I did a lot of distance racing - 10k, half-marathon, etc.  Also, for the last 30 years, I've been an active cyclist.  Again, always full-on.  I don't run now, but I cycle to work and back many days from late spring through to early winter (before the clocks go back).  That's a 20-mile round trip.  I can usually manage each 10-mile leg in around 35 minutes.  Finally, during the summer, I do a lot of sea-swimming.  I live close to the sea, which helps!  I can't use swimming pools, unfortunately.  Too many people.

    I'm not sure what's out there for 'exercise with autism'.  I've just always done exercise.  Though it's always been in 'lone' activities.  Exercise, of course, releases endorphins, which interact with receptors in the brain that reduce perceptions of pain and bring a general positive feeling in the body.

    I did Bujinkai karate for several years, reaching 7th Kyu (blue belt), and always enjoyed - as has been pointed out above - the learning of katas and commands.  I didn't enjoy sparring, though, and could never translate what I'd learned into effective action against an opponent.  I gave it up in the end because of an especially brutal grading where I sustained a couple of broken ribs.  I basically got fed up with the pain.

  • Hi Kate,

    Not seen any concrete evidence on exercise for autistic people, but as Martian Tom has said already, I prefer endurance sports with cycling being my favourite.  I think exercising alone may be favoured by some and I certainly feel more relaxed doing sports on my own - group sports always overwhelm me and I struggle with classes too.  Sports which have a require mental strength and clarity, and need a rhythm (such a maintaining cadence on a bike, pacing yourself when running) always relax me the most.