New Study Shows Running Improves Fitness, Communication for Children with Autism

VALHALLA, N.Y.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A new study funded by the Cigna Foundation shows that running improves
fitness and communication among children with autism.

On Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy’s
Section on Pediatrics Annual Conference (SoPAC), researchers from
Achilles International and New York Medical College (NYMC) released
results of a collaborative four-month study, measuring the quantitative
and qualitative effects of the Achilles Kids running program on
restrictive/repetitive behaviors, social interaction, social
communication, emotional responses and cognitive style on 94 students
with autism in five schools. This real-world, “natural setting” study is
among the largest to have been conducted to-date.

The study showed profound and statistically significant improvements in
key areas such as fitness markers and communication behaviors; further
validating the team’s hypothesis that a vigorous school-based exercise
program has potential to positively impact numerous physical, social,
academic and emotional factors for students facing the highest levels of
impairment. Study participants faced additional challenges including
socioeconomic situations and little access to outside therapies and
adaptive extracurricular programs.

“In a subset of students that were identified as having the most severe
autism (based on the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS)), the study
found statistical significant improvements in awareness, cognition,
motivation and restrictive repetitive behaviors, i.e., self-inflicted
injuries,” said Susan Ronan, PT, DPT, PCS, assistant professor of
clinical physical therapy in the School of Health Sciences and Practice
at NYMC. “These findings are encouraging and warrant further exploration
in future research.”

Led by Ronan and Janet Dolot, PT, DPT, DrPH, OCS, assistant professor of
clinical physical therapy also in the School of Health Sciences and
Practice at NYMC, the team collected baseline, midterm and final data on
a variety of factors related to the students’ fitness, communication,
social awareness, quality of life and autism severity.

The Achilles Kids school-based running curriculum helps adaptive
physical education teachers—whose students include children with
autism—implement a running-based program in their schools. The students
are given the goal of running 26.2 miles—the marathon distance—in a
school year.

This school-based study is funded by World of Difference grants given to
Achilles in 2014 and 2015 by long-time partner Cigna Foundation.
Existing literature on this topic often examined small sample sizes or
community-based programs, and so the Achilles and NYMC teams sought to
quantifying extensive anecdotal evidence observed by Achilles showing
physical, social, emotional and academic improvement in children with
autism spectrum disorder who regularly ran with their program as part of
their school day.

“It continues to be a major challenge for researchers to be able to
study populations of children with autism in real-world settings like
schools,” said Ronan. “We’re thrilled to have conducted one of the
largest studies of its kind, particularly since many of the students who
participated are from historically underrepresented communities.”

The Achilles Kids program currently serves more than 250 schools
reaching 10,000 children with disabilities. A large number of
participating students are members of minority groups, economically
disadvantaged and non-English speaking.

“The results are extremely encouraging as millions of parents,
caregivers and medical professionals grapple with how to best support
children on the autism spectrum,” said Megan Wynne Lombardo, director of
development at Achilles.

About New York Medical College

Founded in 1860, NYMC is one of the oldest and largest health sciences
colleges in the country with more than 1,400 students, 1,300 residents
and clinical fellows, nearly 3,000 faculty members, and 16,000 living
alumni. The College, which joined the Touro College and University
System in 2011, is located in Westchester County, New York, and offers
advanced degrees from the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of
Basic Medical Sciences, and the School of Health Sciences and Practice.
The College manages more than $32.6 million in research and other
sponsored programs, notably in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular
disease, infectious diseases, kidney disease, the neurosciences,
disaster medicine, and vaccine development. With a network of affiliated
hospitals that includes large urban medical centers, small suburban
clinics and high-tech regional tertiary care facilities, NYMC provides a
wide variety of clinical training opportunities throughout the tri-state
region for medical students, residents, and other health providers.

About Achilles International

Achilles International is a worldwide organization that encourages
people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running.


Press Contact:
New York Medical College
Riekert, M.B.A.
Vice President of Communications
(914) 594-4552