If you didn’t know already, April is National Autism Awareness Month! In 2023, the Center for Disease Control reported that about 1 in 36 children in the United States are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since 2000, the prevalence of ASD has increased by 178%. Whether an athlete does or does not have an ASD or special needs, all athletes require and deserve the same level of healthcare in sports. Now more than ever, we must focus on injury prevention and prioritize celebrating and including children with ASD in sports.
In 2009, one study found that youth athletes with ASD were five times more likely to sustain an injury than children with other special needs. With the increased prevalence of autism, we know that the rate of injuries has also increased. The International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training released a study in 2017 highlighting that Athletic Trainers (ATs) do not often feel equipped to support youth athletes with ASD. The study offers strategies to support ATs, including understanding social skills, communication, sensory perception, and consistency. When accommodations are made, ATs can more effectively and inclusively support athletes with ASD.
A Southern California-based non-profit organization, Break it Down Total Sports, teaches sports skills and knowledge to children with special needs while creating a positive sports environment. Stephanie Dale co-founded the organization to create a sports-focused program tailored to the specific skill set of children with ASD. Dale and her team of coaches assess behaviors and deliver direction so athletes can better follow exercise mechanics. Their innovative approach teaches necessary skills but applies behavioral analysis to each skill. Break it Down Total Sports is just one of many organizations paving the way for the celebration and inclusion of youth athletes with ASD.
- Alexander, Melissa & Gardin, Fredrick. (2017). Strategies for Athletic Trainers to Provide Effective Treatment to People With Autism Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training. 22. 1-13. 10.1123/ijatt.2017-0013.
- Autism statistics and facts. Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics
- Cote, B. (2021, March 10). Sports program targets children with autism. THE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH HOUR. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from https://www.thebehavioralhealthhour.com/sport/sports-program-targets-children-with-autism
- Ramirez M, Yang J, Bourque L, Javien J, Kashani S, Limbos MA, Peek-Asa C. Sports injuries to high school athletes with disabilities. Pediatrics. 2009 Feb;123(2):690-6. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-0603. PMID: 19171639.