Physical activity in children and adolescents with autism assessed by triaxial accelerometry


Address for correspondence: Dr AH Memari, Sports Medicine Research Center, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, No. 7, Al-e-Ahmad Highway, Tehran 14395-578, Iran. E-mail:


What is already known about this subject

  • Individuals with disabilities are more likely to be sedentary compared to the general population.
  • Individuals with ASD show several impairments in motor and physical functioning.
  • Lack of opportunity is the primary factor that brings minimal physical activity to children with ASD.

What this study adds

  • There was a substantial reduction in level of PA across the adolescent years in ASD.
  • A decline in PA level and opportunities at school can contribute to a reduction in individual's total PA in ASD.
  • Household structure, sedentary activities, comorbidities and obesity are associated with PA level in children and adolescents with ASD.


This study aimed to examine physical activity (PA) patterns in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as to address PA determinant factors by employing triaxial accelerometry.


In a school-based cross-sectional study of 80 children and adolescents with ASD (mean = 9.6, standard deviation = 1.8), we investigated demographics, children's behavioural and clinical profile, and their PA data as objectively measured using an Actigraph GT3X on the right hip for seven consecutive days. All activity measures were expressed as counts per minute (c.p.m.).


There was a substantial reduction in activity across the adolescent years in ASD. Girls were significantly less active than boys with ASD. Participants were remarkably less active in school compared to after-school, and there was a PA decline during weekdays compared to weekends, which was not significant. Household structure, sedentary pursuits, comorbidities and obesity were identified as other determinants of PA in children with ASD.


Given the limited objective assessment of PA in children with ASD, our findings stressed the need for improving PA programmes, particularly for girls and older children with ASD. This study also provided important information for counselling clinicians, families and school policy-makers about health issues in ASD.