Directly Measured Physical Activity of 4 Year Old Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
E. Bremer1 and M. Lloyd2, (1)Infant and Child Health Lab, Department of Family Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada, (2)Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Background: Engagement in physical activity (PA) is critical to maintain good health and can also provide important behavioural benefits to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Bremer, Crozier, & Lloyd, In Press). It is recommended that preschool aged children (3-4 years of age) engage in 180 minutes of PA each day (Tremblay et al., 2012), which equates to approximately 9,000 steps/day (Vale, Trost, Duncan, & Mota, 2015). To date, the PA of preschool aged children with ASD has not been evaluated.  

Objectives: The objectives of this pilot study are 1) To explore the PA levels of 4 year old children with ASD; 2) To examine the correlations between PA, motor skills, and adaptive behaviour in this population; and 3) To examine the potential feasibility of measuring PA in preschool aged children with ASD via pedometers. 

Methods: Fourteen children that were 4 years of age with ASD participated in this study as part of a larger intervention study. Participants were assessed using the following measures: Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-2 (VABS-2) and Peabody Developmental Motor Scales-2 (PDMS-2). Height and weight were directly measured and BMI was calculated. Demographic information was obtained from the participant’s parents. Each participant was given a time-stamped pedometer to wear for 7 consecutive days to measure PA. Pedometer data was analyzed for validity using the following criteria: worn 3 days for at least 10 hours/day. Average steps/day was calculated for participants with valid data. Pearson correlations were used to explore the relationships between PA, motor skills, and adaptive behaviour. T-tests were used to explore baseline differences in behaviour, motor skills, BMI, and socioeconomic status between those participants with and without valid pedometer data.  

Results: Participants (n=9) who wore their pedometer for at least 10 hours/day for 3 days took an average of 10,044 steps/day. Participants (n=3) who did not wear their pedometer for the necessary time but, had at least one valid day of data (i.e. wore it for at least 10 hours on 1 day) took an average of 8,195 steps/day. Average steps/day were positively correlated with the VABS-2 adaptive behaviour composite standard score (r=0.682, p=0.015) but, not with any of the PDMS-2 outcomes. The only difference between the participants with and without valid pedometer data was in BMI with those participants who wore their pedometer having a lower BMI than those who did not wear it [t (12) = 3.452, p = 0.005]. Anecdotally, parents reported sensory issues as the main factor preventing their child from wearing the pedometer.  

Conclusions: On average, participants in this study were meeting the recommended PA guidelines for preschool-aged children. Future research should further examine the relationship between adaptive behaviour and physical activity, particularly as a mode of intervention. Further research with larger, representative samples of children with ASD is also needed to determine their PA levels and the reliability and validity of using pedometers in this population.