International Meeting for Autism Research: Get Fresh: Evaluation of A Healthy Lifestyles Group for Teens with ASDs and Their Parents

Get Fresh: Evaluation of A Healthy Lifestyles Group for Teens with ASDs and Their Parents

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
10:00 AM
S. Nichols1, S. Pulver Tetenbaum2, L. Adamek3, L. Perlis4, E. M. Mansdorf5 and G. Reilly6, (1)Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism, Huntington, NY, (2)ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development, Melville, NY, (3)UC San Diego, San Diego, CA, (4)Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Brookville, NY, (5)Department of Psychology, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, (6)Stony Brook University Medical Center Department of Social Work, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
Background: Health and fitness are important to quality of life as they are linked to cognitive performance, social functioning, and self-esteem (Kwak et al, 2009; McAuley, Mihalko, & Bane, 1997). People with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may have difficulty achieving healthy lifestyles due to limited interest in physical play, lack of motivation to engage in social fitness activities, limited self-awareness, and restricted food interests. Further, youth with ASDs exhibit a higher prevalence of gross motor deficits (Freitag, Meser, Schneider, & Von Gontard, 2007). Thus, education and intervention are needed in this area. Health and fitness programs with neurotypical children have generated a variety of positive outcomes in academic performance, attention, sleep, self-esteem, motor skills, and externalizing behaviors. A recent review of physical exercise with individuals with ASDs demonstrated decreases in child problem behaviors (Lang et al, 2010). To date, no projects have investigated the efficacy of a comprehensive, group, health and fitness curriculum for youth with ASDs. The development and evaluation of such a curriculum will enable professionals to best understand how to teach health and fitness concepts and activities to adolescents with ASDs.

Objectives: The aim of the current study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a group-based parent and teen curriculum designed to (a) increase adolescents’ fitness-related motor skills, (b) improve adolescents’ sleep, (c) increase adolescents’ healthy eating, (d) improve adolescents’ relaxation skills, (e) increase parents’ confidence in being able to create healthy lifestyle changes at home, and (f) increase families’ reported quality of life.

Methods: Twenty-two adolescents (14 male, 8 female) ages 12-16 (m = 14.27; SD =1.12) and their parents were recruited for the current study. A wait-list control was used to compare groups. Participants attended 90 minute, weekly sessions for 12 weeks. Teen and parent groups included fitness exercises and a healthy lifestyle curriculum covering a variety of topics (e.g., healthy eating, positive sleep habits). Preliminary analyses of pre and post group measures included parent reports of individualized goal attainment.

Results: Data analysis is currently underway. Results suggest that parents made progress towards accomplishing their personal goals for participation in the group; 85% of parents (n = 20) indicated a rating of 3 or higher on a 5 point likert scale for goal accomplishment at post-group. Parents were also asked to identify a specific goal prior to the start of group and indicate their child’s level of goal attainment pre- and post- group. Goal attainment ratings (0-5 scale) were high for all parents post-group (t (18) = -7.52, p < .0001), though specific goals varied greatly across families. Common themes arose as issues facing youth with ASDs (e.g., motivation to exercise and variety of food choices). Further analyses will compare pre-post changes in adolescent’s quality of life, social functioning, activity level, and problem behavior.

Conclusions: Preliminary findings demonstrate the appropriateness of group-based parent and teen psycho-education and activity programming for addressing health and fitness for youth with ASDs. Limitations and recommendations for future research directions in health and fitness will be discussed.   

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