Measuring Physical Activity Levels During Instructional Settings for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


  • Melissa Bittner California State University, Long Beach
  • Ralph Rozenek California State University, Long Beach
  • Barry Lavay California State University, Long Beach
  • B. Rhett Rigby Texas Woman's University


Autism, energy expenditure, heart rate, metabolic equivalent, physical activity, summer camp


A growing number of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may not possess the motor skills needed to be physically active. In order to address these needs, Camp Nugget is held each summer with the goal of providing quality individualized physical activity instruction to children with disabilities 5 through 12 years of age. The program provides a variety of physical activities and is designed to improve levels of fitness for the participants. The primary purpose of this study was to quantify the intensity of exercise, resulting from participation in Camp Nugget, by characterizing heart rate (HR) and energy expenditure (EE) during physical activity. A secondary purpose was to determine the effectiveness of the program in improving participants’ overall levels of fitness. Convenience sampling was used to recruit 18 participants with Level 1 or 2 ASD from Camp Nugget. Results showed there appeared to be relatively little variability from session to session with regard to HR and EE. Participants engaged in physical activities at a range of 55 to 70% of their maximum HR, regardless of condition (i.e., warm-up, individual time, group time) throughout the entire program. Three of four measures of fitness selected from Brockport Physical Fitness Test for this study showed significant improvement as a result of the physical activity program: isometric push-up (p < .05), curl-up (p < .05), and Back Saver Sit-N-Reach (p < .05). When children are out for school in the summer, parents and caregivers may want to consider a structured physical activity summer camp for children with ASD to improve and maintain activity and fitness outcomes.

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