The Effects of a Peer Supported Physical Activity Intervention for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
N. Miodrag1, T. Todd2, S. Colgate3, E. V. Perez4, M. Salazar5 and B. Endinjok5, (1)Child and Adolescent Development, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (2)Kinesiology, California State University, Northridge, CA, (3)California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (4)Psychology, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (5)Kinesiology, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA
Background: A growing body of evidence shows that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often lead sedentary lives and have a higher prevalence of being overweight and obese than the general population. Engaging in regular physical activity (PA) can improve health and help prevent obesity (US Department of Health and Human Services). Physical activity levels decrease in adolescence and remain low throughout adulthood. To date, there is a lack of PA interventions for young adults with ASD. As the number of adults with ASD increases, it is important to develop evidence-based interventions that improve physical activity and fitness before chronic health issues become a major burden for individuals, families, and public health.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to engage college students with ASD in regular, sustained PA and increase levels of fitness. Specifically, we examined the effects of a 10-week exercise program on cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility, as well as perceived anxiety and motivation to participate.

Methods: IFiT (Into Fitness Together) is a 10-week, individualized peer supported physical activity program tailored to address the motor and social barriers to PA among college students with ASD. A total of 16 participants with ASD (13 males, 3 females) between the ages of 18 and 28 years (M = 22.38) participated in this study. Each student was paired with a college Kinesiology student (i.e., Peer Mentor). Dyads met twice a week for 10 weeks for a minimum of 120 minutes of PA of their choice and 30 minutes to plan activities for the coming week. Anthropometric, fitness, anxiety, and motivation measures were taken at pre- and post-intervention. Fitness measures included the timed 1-mile walk for VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen used during intense physical activity), sit-ups and push-ups for muscular endurance, and flexibility assessed using the sit and reach box. Self-reported anxiety was measured using the Beck Anxiety Inventory and motivation using the MPAM-R.

Results: Fifteen of the sixteen participants had BMI scores in the overweight to obese range. The results for cardiovascular fitness (1-mile walk) showed significant differences in VO2 from pre (M = 32.58) to post-intervention (M = 36.97), p < .05. There was a significant increase in sit and reach post scores (M = 10.78) compared to sit and reach pre scores (M = 9.66), p < .05. Muscular Endurance was assessed using the push-up test measuring endurance in the upper extremity muscles, while the YMCA half sit-up test measured endurance in the core muscles. A statistically significant increase was found in the push-up post scores (M = 16.0) compared to the push-up pre scores (M = 12.81), p < .05. Significance was not found in core muscular endurance measured by sit-ups. There were no significant changes from pre- to post-intervention for perceived anxiety or motivation to participate.

Conclusions: Regular participation in a 10-week peer supported physical activity program resulted in significant fitness benefits to college students with ASD. These findings indicate that participants with ASD sustained PA to meet national guidelines with peer support.