Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behaviours. As a parent of a child living with autism, you are likely familiar with the challenging journey of seeking effective treatments. Have you ever considered exploring exercise physiology as a potential therapeutic approach? Studies suggest that exercise can provide a myriad of benefits for individuals living with autism.

What is an Exercise Physiologist?

Firstly, the study of exercise physiology delves into how the body responds to physical activity and exercise. While we all acknowledge exercise is beneficial for our health, studies also suggest its potential as a valuable tool in aiding children and adolescence living with autism to enhance their physical, cognitive, and social capabilities.

An exercise physiologist is an allied-health professional who has university-level education. They are the most skilled allied health profession to prescribe and deliver exercise. They have knowledge on a wide range of different health conditions and disabilities and have the skills to implement and deliver the safest and most effective exercise for someone living with a disability. They also have the skills and knowledge to educate a person about their condition, create positive behaviour changes and they understand the interactions between medications and exercise. They are also equipped with skills to complete physical assessments and NDIS-reports.

Benefits of Exercise Physiology for Individuals Living with Autism

Enhancing Motor Skills, Coordination & Balance.

A primary benefit of exercise physiology for individuals living with autism is the improvement of motor skills and coordination. Many children living with autism face challenges with these skills, and exercise is a potent medicine for improving motor control, coordination, balance and building strength. This facilitates advancements in both gross motor skills, such as running and jumping, and fine motor skills, including handwriting and manipulating objects (Castaño et al., 2023; Ji, Tian, Zheng, Ye, & Ye, 2023; Ketcheson, Hauck, & Ulrich, 2016; Ludyga, Pühse, Gerber, & Mücke, 2021; Najafabadi et al., 2018)

Mitigating Stereotypical and Self-Injurious Behaviours

Exercise can reduce stereotypical and self-injurious behaviours in people living with autism. By providing a beneficial channel for surplus energy and stress, exercise serves as a method for reducing stereotypical and self-injurious behaviours often exhibited by children with autism, such as repetitive movements, hand-flapping, or head-banging (Ferreira et al., 2019; Sowa & Meulenbroek, 2012; Tarr, Rineer-Hershey, & Larwin, 2019).

Improved Cognitive function, Social and Communication Skills

Exercise improves areas of the brain related to communication (verbal and non-verbal communication), language as well as overall cognition and therefore can be a valuable treatment for someone living with autism (Leonard & Hill, 2014; Liang et al., 2022; Ludyga et al., 2021; Najafabadi et al., 2018; Srinivasan, Pescatello, & Bhat, 2014). Given that individuals with autism frequently encounter challenges in social interactions and communication, engaging in exercise also provides opportunities to interact with coaches and peers.

Promoting Improved Mental health, Mood, and Self-esteem

Lastly, exercise contributes to promoting reduced depressive symptoms, improved mood, and improved self-esteem (Li, Zhou, Huang, & Shao, 2023; Spratt et al., 2018). Children living with autism may grapple with mental health and mood disorders, but exercise aids in fostering a positive mood by boosting the production and release of chemicals which have anti-depressant effects.



Exercise Physiology as a Valuable Treatment Option for Individuals living with Autism

To highlight, exercise does not only improve physical function but also triggers the release and production of various chemicals, including myokines, exerkines and hormones, contributing to improved brain health, cognition, mood, and stress reduction. In addition, exercise stimulate the growth of new neurons and enhances the connection between different areas of the brain, leading to cognitive improvements.

Exercise Physiology supports can be funded under a NDIS-plan and can be a valuable addition to improving and managing disabilities such as autism. Exercise Physiology treatment includes health and physical assessments, NDIS reports and 1 on 1 exercise sessions to aid in the management of a disability and assist participants in living a healthier life as well as reaching their NDIS-related goals.

Considerations When Implementing Exercise Physiology as a Treatment Option for Children with Autism

The implementation of exercise physiology treatment in addition to other therapies such as occupational therapy and speech therapy can be a valuable integration for individuals living with autism supporting a beneficial comprehensive treatment. Collaboration between exercise physiologist and other treatment providers is imperative to formulate a holistic treatment plan addressing all aspects of an individual’s needs. Important considerations such as age, medications, other health conditions, physical ability, goals, and interests must guide the development of an exercise plan, ensuring it is suitable, effective, enjoyable, and sustainable.


Exercise physiology emerges as a promising treatment option for individuals living with autism, providing diverse benefits across their physical, cognitive, and social development. A tailored exercise program prescribed by an exercise physiologist which specialises in the individuals’ unique needs, preferences and goals can contribute significantly to empowering individuals living with autism to lead healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life!

Expert Author: Christopher Kondos (Accredited Exercise Physiologist and founder of Sydney Exercise Medicine).

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An exercise physiologist has the education, skills and experience to improve the life of individuals living with an NDIS related diagnosis.

Speak to an accredited exercise physiologist today to learn how they can assist an individual living with an NDIS disability.

Written by Accredited Exercise Physiologist – Christopher Kondos

Christopher Kondos is an ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist with 6+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Christopher has completed a Sports & Exercise Science Degree and a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology.
– Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst -2022 (Received an Executive Dean’s Award for these studies)
– Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at Australian Catholic University, Strathfield – 2019
-Student Exercise Physiologist at Nepean Hospital (Cardiac Rehabilitation) 2021
– Approved SIRA Provider (No. 20963)
– ASCA Strength and Conditioning Level 1 accreditation – 2018

Christopher Kondos Sydney exercise Medicine


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