Autism and Sports


By Jennifer Gensic, Learn from Autistics, 2 February 2016

The benefits of competitive sports are accessible to all children, even those on the autism spectrum. If your child shows an interest in sports, that’s great! There are many benefits to participating, including healthy exercise and learning important life skills like cooperation, teamwork, overcoming obstacles, and the rewards of hard work, among others. Parents may be apprehensive about signing up their autistic child for a particular sport, but with the right amount of support, these activities can turn into wonderful opportunities for social and emotional development.

Challenges Autistic Children Face When Playing Sports

  • Sensory issues related to noise, lighting, touch, or smell
  • Difficulty socializing or working together as a team
  • Plenty of distractions, resulting in an inability to focus
  • The need for sameness, structure in a somewhat unpredictable environment
  • The tendency for sports to rely on verbal coaching and instructions when the child may not be an auditory learner
  • Physical stressors, such as bodies touching (intentionally or unintentionally)
  • Difficulty with coordination and gross motor skills
  • Difficulty communicating needs in ways coaches or players can understand
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts such as offense or defense
  • Frustration and meltdowns due to a coach or teammate’s inability to identify high levels of stress

How to Advocate for Your Athletic Autistic Child

  • Address issues of noise
  • Determine environmental issues
  • Communicate triggers
  • Ask for help with transitions
  • Don’t coach from the sidelines
  • Don’t overdo praise

Remember the most important benefits your child will receive from playing a sport don’t have much to do with the skill of the sport. This includes learning how to win and lose with grace, communicate with a team, try hard, and work around obstacles. Don’t get wrapped up in your child’s skill level at a particular sport, rather, try to ensure they are learning these important life skills and having fun!

This article goes over the benefits and challenges children with Autism can face when playing sports. It also specifies how you can advocate for your child to be able to participate in sports.