Children with autism are at increased risk for being overweight and obese. Children with autism face a variety of challenges with achieving the recommended levels of physical activity, including social barriers, decreased motor skills and motor coordination, sensory sensitivities, and executive function challenges. Sporting activities traditionally used to promote physical activity in children, such as team and individual sports, may not be ideal for children with autism. Walking is an achievable form of physical activity for children with autism, and prior work has shown that use of walking routes can increase daily physical activity in children and adolescents. The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of using walking routes as a novel approach for increasing physical activity among children with autism.
This feasibility and preliminary efficacy pilot RCT study aims to enroll 24 children with autism ages 6-18 years. The study will determine baseline physical activity levels and then test the benefit of counseling patients with autism and their families on daily walking routes as a means to increase physical activity. Objective physical activity will be collected over one week periods at baseline, after receiving the intervention (T1), and 3 months after receiving the intervention (T2). Physical activity will be measured by accelerometry; location will be recorded by GPS. Baseline physical activity patterns will be mapped using Geographic Information Systems to inform physical activity counseling. Intervention subjects and their families will receive counseling on personalized walking routes; control subjects and families will receive standard of care physical activity recommendations.
We have begun enrolling patients, with 3/24 patients enrolled to date. Feasibility will be assessed by reporting the study completion rate and documenting reported autism-specific barriers to wearing the study equipment and/or to study participation and completion. Preliminary efficacy will be calculated as the change in non-sedentary time from baseline to T1 and T2.
Walking routes represent a novel possible approach to increasing physical activity in children with autism.