Child and Parental Correlates of Participation in Sports and Recreational Activities in School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to identify differences between child and parental characteristics of school-aged children with ASD whose parents reported consistent participation or no participation in organized SRP over a 4-year period between the ages of 7 and 12 years. A secondary objective was to examine whether these child and parental characteristics were correlated with participation over time.
Methods: Data came from the Pathways in ASD study, a large Canadian longitudinal prospective study of children with ASD. The sample was composed of 189 school-aged children with ASD at T1 (mean age: 12.7 years, 83% male). Participation in organized community-based sports and recreational programs was indexed using the Community Programs and Services Assessment (CPSA) over a 4-year period (T1-T4, with T1 as the first assessment between age 8-9 years and one assessment every 12 months for 3 consecutive years). ANOVAs were used to explore group differences based on consistent participation across the 4-year period and on variables of interest including child characteristics: T1 autism severity scores (Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale; ADOS), T2 and T4 adaptive functioning (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale; VABS II); and T1-T4 externalizing and internalizing behaviour (Child Behavior Checklist; CBCL 6-18), and parent characteristics across T1-T4 including: estimated household income, parental stress (Parental Stress Index; PSI), and T1-T4 parental anxiety and depression self-reported symptoms (Symptoms Checklist-Revised; SCL-90-R).
Results: Of the sample, 21% of the families indicated consistent participation in SRPs over the 4 years and 23% of families indicated no participation. Groups did not differ significantly in gender, autism severity score, or internalizing behaviour. However, compared to children who consistently participated, those who did not participate had significantly lower adaptive functioning skills at T2 and T4 and more externalizing behaviours across T1-T4 (p < 0.001, for all). On parental characteristics, the group who participated consistently had significantly higher household income across time than those who did not participate at all (p < 0.001). Adaptive functioning, externalizing behaviour, and household income were significantly correlated with participation (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: Study findings show that school-aged children with ASD who regularly participate in SRPs have higher adaptive functioning, fewer externalizing behaviour problems, and higher parental income. These findings are consistent with previous literature indicating child and parental factors that limit or facilitate participation in SRPs. They also underline the importance of implementing and evaluating proactive, multifaceted strategies aimed at reducing child- and family-level barriers to inclusion in SRPs.