The Effect of Music on Exercise Intensity Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
A. C. Woodman1, E. Breviglia2, Y. Mori3, R. Golden4, J. Maina3 and H. Wisniewski2, (1)University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, (2)Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, (3)Boston Higashi School, Randolph, MA, (4)Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA
Background: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk for obesity and other health problems as a result of insufficient exercise. Past research suggests that vigorous exercise can yield immediate improvements in challenging behavior, sleep, and academic engagement as well as physical and mental health over the life course for people with ASD. To date, little research has identified strategies to motivate children-particularly young children-with ASD to engage in levels of physical activity analogous to their peers.

Objectives: The present study aimed to extend this limited body of literature on motivation and exercise by examining the effect of music on exercise intensity in elementary school children with ASD. It was expected that exercise intensity would be greatest when fast music was playing, followed by slow music then no music. Potential moderating factors (e.g., student gender, age, body mass index, adaptive skills, behavior problems, autism symptom severity) were explored.

Methods: The sample consisted of 13 elementary school children (2 female) with ASD, recruited from a school for children with ASD in the Northeast of the United States. The mean age was 9.31 years (SD = 2.25), with a range from 5 to 13 years. Teachers completed a baseline booklet of questionnaires about participating children, including measures of adaptive skills (Waisman Activities of Daily Living Scale, Maenner et al., 2013), behavior problems (Problem Subscale of the Scales of Independent Behavior Revised, Bruininks et al., 2016), and autism symptom severity (Autism Spectrum Quotient-Children’s Version, Auyeung et al., 2007). Child age, gender and body mass index were obtained from the nurse’s office with parents’ permission. Data on exercise intensity were collected on six days within a 16-day period. Each morning, students jogged alongside their teachers for 20 minutes (structured exercise period). Later in the morning, students were encouraged to jog again for 20 minutes around a circle of cones in the gymnasium, with minimal prompting from teachers (unstructured exercise period). On each of the six days of data collection, students listened to either fast music, slow music, or no music across both jogging periods (two days for each condition). Accelerometers were placed on students’ waistbands to measure exercise intensity every 10 seconds as Metabolic Equivalent Tasks (METs). Vigorous exercise was operationalized as the percentage of 10-second intervals within the exercise period that exceeded 6 METs, in line with current definitions from the World Health Organization.

Results: A one-way repeated measures ANOVA with post-hoc tests was conducted with music condition as the independent variable and vigorous activity as the dependent variable. Music condition had a significant effect on vigorous activity in the unstructured, but not structured, exercise period. Vigorous exercise was significantly higher during the slow music condition, compared to the no music condition. This effect was significantly moderated by adaptive behavior, such that only children with low or average levels of adaptive skills showed heightened vigorous exercise in response to slow music.

Conclusions: Music may be a helpful tool for school-based exercise programs to motivate youth with ASD to engage in vigorous exercise.