The effects of physical exercise on self-stimulation and appropriate responding in autistic children


A major problem encountered with autistic children is their characteristic self-stimulatory behavior, which frequently interferes with on-task responding and other appropriate behaviors. However, the experimental literature suggests that with many populations, increased physical activity might positively influence subsequent responding. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the use of increased physical activity (in this experiment, jogging) as a possible method of decreasing subsequent self-stimulatory behaviors as well as increasing subsequent appropriate responding. Seven autistic children with exceptionally high levels of self-stimulatory behavior participated in the investigation. Self-stimulatory and appropriate behaviors were measured both before and after jogging in a repeated-reversal design. The results demonstrated the following: (1) Brief jogging sessions produced decreases in subsequent levels of self-stimulatory behaviors and also produced increases in appropriate play and academic responding; (2) These changes after jogging were evident in three different experimental settings: during academic responding on preschool level tasks in a clinic; during ball-playing in an outside play area; and in a quiet room, while no other activity was occurring; (3) Supplementary measures obtained in an applied classroom setting showed a similar relationship with both increases in on-task activity and general interest ratings for school tasks following the jogging sessions.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert L. Koegel.

Additional information

This research was supported by Public Health Service research grants MH28210 and MH28231 from the National Institute of Mental Health, and by U. S. Office of Education research grant G007802084 from the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. We are grateful for the assistance of Stephen C. Luce, Julie Kasanoff, Marie Nugent, Robin Gaines, Gina Deluchi, Rosanna Conti, Carl Bendroff, David Rotholz, Christine Chivas, Katherine Kuba, Linda Diaa, Diane Gilchrist, and Virgina Kostigen. We are especially grateful for the help and comments of Jill Hodgett and Glen Dunlap throughout this investigation.

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Kern, L., Koegel, R.L., Dyer, K. et al. The effects of physical exercise on self-stimulation and appropriate responding in autistic children. J Autism Dev Disord 12, 399–419 (1982).

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  • Physical Activity
  • Physical Exercise
  • Experimental Setting
  • Similar Relationship
  • Autistic Child