To motivate adults suffering from autism to exercise more, scientists have said that simple statements of praise may do the job.
Researchers have found through a preliminary study that simple statements of praise may have a big effect on the amount of exercise young adults with autism complete. Further it was also observed that praising people with autism by pre-recorded messages through iPhones and iPods shows promise for producing more exercise.
According to one of the researchers involved with the study, in addition to health benefits that regular physical activity carries for everyone, it also can be especially powerful for people with autism.
Due to the benefits of regular physical activity for people with autism, researchers wanted to explore how to increase their engagement in a regular exercise routine through positive reinforcement, a well-established practice for use with people with autism.
This latest study was different from prior research on reinforcement, though, for two main reasons. First, it was focused on the impact of praise in and of itself, rather than pairing it with other reinforcement. Second, the study examined the impact of how that praise was delivered–either in person or by technology.
For this small single-subject design study, researchers implemented an exercise program for three young adults with autism, ages 20-22, and followed their daily progress through multiple sessions under different conditions.
While participants were running laps around cones, they heard the same voice either in-person or through headphones on a fixed schedule, delivering various praise statements, such as “Good job running around the cones!” or “You are doing a great job running Mason!”
These praise statements incorporated the target behavior (running), which are believed to be an important feature of effective reinforcement.
The study however points out that the impact of praise on exercise may not have been the most important finding.
Further, using technology has several additional advantages. Especially among young adults, cell phones and iPods are popular and carry no stigma. Using them for support may also help people with autism feel more independent.
Relying on technology to deliver praise statements or provide other support also saves time.