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Exercise and good nutrition can be challenging for people with autism, but expert help can overcome some of the hurdles

Exercise and good nutrition can be challenging for people with autism, but expert help can overcome some of the hurdles
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Staying fit and healthy is hard enough for most people, but those of us with autism have a host of other hurdles to overcome.

Motor skills issues, including balance and coordination, can all add to the challenges of getting and staying in shape.

According to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing, in 2017-2018, Australian children aged 5-14 with disabilities were more likely to be overweight or obese (30%) than those without disabilities. (24%). .

The first large-scale study in 2020, conducted by King’s College London, showed adults with autism are more likely to be considered ‘unhealthy’ weight – underweight, overweight and obese – than they are in the healthy weight category.

As an autistic person, I continually struggled with my weight and staying motivated to exercise.

Nick McAllister says people with autism have a host of other hurdles to overcome when it comes to exercise.()

Despite the services of many personal trainers, they were ultimately unable to motivate me and I felt frustrated at not seeing results.

Communication is key

My current exercise physiologist, Jake Nimmo, tries to work with me on my coordination and balance, while keeping me motivated during our sessions.

He has already noticed beneficial changes, telling me that my aerobic capacity has improved greatly since I started exercising and my energy levels are much higher.

Nick McAllister says his work with coach Jake Nimmo is having a positive impact.()

According to Jake, my strength levels have also increased and my movements are much more efficient.

Good communication with me was key, and I spoke with Jack about the barriers to exercise, as well as my likes and dislikes.

We discuss topics that make me forget the more difficult exercises, and sometimes Jake does these exercises with me.

These strategies help me associate exercise with fun, rather than viewing it as difficult and negative.

A physical trainer encourages a participant during a program for people with disabilities.()

Building confidence through exercise

Strong Saturdays, a program in the northern suburbs of Perth, specifically aims to help people with disabilities gain confidence through health and fitness.

Roman Wright (right) participates in a fitness program for people with disabilities.()

Participants work out using outdoor exercise equipment and stairs at a beach-side site.

Roman Wright, who has autism, regularly attends Strong Saturdays to get stronger, healthier and feel more confident.

Roman Wright says he feels healthier and more confident after participating in the program.()

“When I started I was afraid of stairs and I was afraid of falling. Now I’m more confident,” he said.

Roman said he looked forward to Strong Saturdays as he enjoyed meeting friends, exercising together and sharing a healthy lunch afterwards.

The trainers (far left and right) pose with some of the fitness class participants.()

Tailor-made cooking classes

Food aid charity Foodbank knows the importance of food and nutrition to staying healthy, especially for people with disabilities.

Chief Executive Kate O’Hara said the organization hopes to empower people to choose and prepare healthy food.

Kata O’Hara says people with disabilities are more likely to experience food insecurity.()

“People with disabilities are more likely to experience barriers that contribute to poorer health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, poor oral health compared to people without disabilities,” she said.

“Having a disability makes households more likely to experience food insecurity, and these education and cooking programs address these issues.

“Unfortunately, people with disabilities have fewer opportunities to address health inequities because traditional health education programs and resources are not tailored to their needs.”

Josef Bandera regularly attends Foodbank’s cooking program and raves about it.

“My favorite thing I cooked here was pizza,” he said.

Josef Bandera has nothing but praise for Foodbank’s cooking program. ()

“It taught me how to work with different people and different foods and I became more confident in the kitchen.”

Kate said another participant started volunteering, preparing healthy food for her local soccer team after completing the program.

“Anecdotally, we saw many benefits for our participants, people developed many social connections and made new friends, socializing together outside of program sessions,” she said.

“The impacts of the program have been incredible.”

Key to confidence in the kitchen

Dietitian Themis Chryssidis said the more confident people were in the kitchen, the more likely they were to prepare nutritious meals.

Themis Chryssidis says buying pre-cut vegetables can help improve nutrition for people with disabilities. ()

“People with disabilities can face physical challenges in the kitchen, which makes food preparation difficult, however, the disability is not just physical, with intellectual disabilities also being major barriers for some people,” a- he declared.

“Some people with disabilities find certain tasks more difficult than others (but) with extra support in the kitchen, convenient utensils and smart supermarket purchases such as pre-chopped vegetables, people with disabilities can still prepare delicious and nutritious meals.”

Professor Andrew Whitehouse of the Telethon Kids Institute said there were likely many contributing factors to why obesity might be more common in people with autism.

Andrew Whitehouse is a professor of autism research and works at the Telethon Kids Institute.()

“For example, we think selective diets may play a role as well as certain medications that may have weight gain as a side effect,” he said.

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