OT-Related Exercises for Children with Autism

My child frequently has a “high engine.” He was taught this phrase to describe how his body is feeling. A high engine means he’s racing inside. His body sometimes has a “low engine” but that typically takes place first thing in the morning. Low engine means he has no energy in his body.

When his engine is high, our child needs to do something to help his body. He wants to regulate his body to get the level to a moderate level, one that he’s comfortable with and leads to less body-related behaviors.

Because my child has low energy during most mornings, before sending him to school we try to get him to do some exercises in order to get his energy to the moderate lever.

How do we know our child wakes up with a low engine?

His aide, his occupational therapist, and I have looked at data we collected for the first four to five months of this past school year. The date shows that our child struggles to earn his check marks for voice control and engine control during the first hour of each school day.

Are low engine and high engine separate issues?

His issues, of course, could be related not only to low engine but also could be attributed to high engine. In the early morning, however, we believe he is on the low side. His OT has suggested that he may switch from low to high very quickly. Then he struggles to find a moderate position.

My child’s OT says that some children are like this. Some are clearly always high, and some are clearly always low. But there are some children, like my son, that struggle with both and with switching between both.

How do we help my child regulate his body?

To help our child before sending him to school, our child does exercises to “wake up” his body.

These exercises are OT-related. They are structured to help your child regulate their bodies. We do five to six minutes of an exercise each morning.

#1. A trampoline.

We own a small trampoline. It is in the living room. The location of this trampoline is not good for the rug beneath it but we have found the living room a better location than the backyard. (Our first trampoline remained in the backyard and eventually got trashed due to the weather and due to constantly moving it around.) 

The action jumping up and down on a trampoline is great for the bodies of OT-needy kids. Once my son got comfortable jumping on a trampoline, he uses it consistently to this day.

#2. A Razor.

My child loves to ride his Razor. We take it with us on walks or trips to Grandma’s house. For the most part, my son uses his Razor to regulate his body with a routine in the backyard. His routine one in which he rides back and forth along our sidewalk.

#3. A stationary bike.

We own a stationary bike. Once a week, I’ll ask my son to ride it for five or six minutes before sending him to school.

#4. A yoga ball.

My child’s OT taught us some yoga ball exercises. One we use often is where my child while slide along the floor on top of the yoga ball while trying to keep his body balanced on the ball. He has to touch something a few feet away then he has to slide back to his starting position.

This exercise is a challenge for our kids because they struggle with body control. Keeping their body on the yoga ball is not easy.

#5. Running stairs.

Once a week, our child will run stairs. He does 10 sets, a set consists of up and down. This exercise helps to get his body moving and it’s a good cardiovascular exercise.

What about weights?

At first, I had my child do his stairs while carrying a five pound weight in each hand. He would also carry the weights while walking from one room to another, again 10 times.

If you child gets a high engine easily, carrying the weights (or a gallon of water or whatever you can find that a child can carry that has some weight to it) will help your child moderate their engine. Your child may be hyper-sensitive, which means their engine gets high very easily. Because of this problem, your child needs to calm his body down more often. The weight physically weighs them down and the excursion of carrying the weight regulates their bodies.

What exercises can your child do at school?

At school, my child’s aide has exercise for my child to help regulate his body.

#1. Pushing a wall. My child will put his hands on a wall and push like he’s trying to push the wall down. The pushing should be for a minute or so and should be three to four times.

#2. Jumping jacks and/or scissor kicks. 20 per set, 3 sets

#3. Backward walking or sideways walking.

This exercise was developed by my child and his aide:

#4.  The child stands up straight facing away from the adult. The child falls backward into the arms of the aide. The aide lets the child down just a bit and then lifts the child back into a standing position. (This is a trust exercise as well as an exercise that will help children regulate their bodies.)

Finally, my child’s speech therapist taught him “Brain Yoga.”

#5. Brain Yoga. The child stands straight up. They cross their arms in front of them and each hand grabs the bottom, fleshy part of the opposite ear. They do squats, bending their knees and then straightening to a standing position. 10-12 times.

The speech therapist explained to us that this exercise is part regulating but the tugging on the ears is a distraction. The child should breathe in while going down and out while straightening.

What else could help my child?

Less OT-related but still used for calming is “Smell the Flowers.” We have used Smell the Flowers for years. A child breaths in deeply through their nose and out through their mouths. They should do this 5-10 times or until they’re calm.

I hope these OT-related exercises help your child regulate their bodies and find the balance they need to be productive.

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