OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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‘Go Baby Go’ mobility program for children with disabilities expands to OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is the newest hub for “Go Baby Go,” a program that provides modified, ride-on cars to young children with disabilities so they can move around independently.

The modified toy cars give children with mobility disabilities a chance to play and socialize with their peers more easily, said Sam Logan, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and leader of the Go Baby Go project at OSU.

Past research has shown that independent mobility is linked to cognitive, social, motor, language and other developmental benefits in young children, he said. Being pushed in a stroller or being carried from one place to another is fundamentally different from having active control over one’s own exploration, which is where the developmental gains are seen.

“We want to provide that movement experience as early as possible, so they can reap the benefits,” said Logan, whose research focuses on providing technology and training to children with disabilities to promote social mobility. “Beyond mobility and socialization, we hope that the ride-on cars provide children with disabilities a chance to just be a kid.”

There are no commercially available devices for children with mobility issues to get around on their own; and power wheelchairs usually aren’t an option until the children are older. The modified cars provide them independence at a much younger age and at a relatively low cost. The cars run about $100 and the electric switches and other modifications, including seating support and padding, bring the total cost to about $200.

Go Baby Go was founded by Professor Cole Galloway as part of a research project at the University of Delaware but researchers have also trained volunteers in more than 40 communities to modify the cars so more children have access to them. Logan oversaw the program at University of Delaware before he joined the OSU faculty this year and said he knew he wanted to continue the program by adding a Go Baby Go site in Corvallis.

“The overarching mission of the lab is to help as many families as we can,” he said. “Within a year, we’d like everyone in Oregon to know that these cars are available.”

Logan will be leading a car-building workshop on Nov. 11 to show OSU students how to modify the cars. About 15 students in Logan’s motor behavior classes have volunteered to work on the first cars, and Logan’s long-term goal is to establish a student-led OSU club that would host car-building workshops on a regular basis.

He is also looking for families interested in obtaining a car for their child. Cars will be available at the Nov. 11 event, he said. Cars have been modified for children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and complex medical needs, such as trachea tubes, he said. While most of the cars are modified to operate with hand movements, they also have been modified for head movement, Logan said.

Families interested in a modified car for their child should email Logan at sam.logan@oregonstate.edu. Parents are encouraged to make a donation to help with car costs if they’re able to, but no donation is required to receive a car, Logan said.

“The donations just allow us to keep providing more cars,” Logan said. “We also ask that families who receive cars either pass them on to another child or return them to us when their child outgrows the car.”

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A child tries a 'Go Baby Go' car

A child tries a car

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Sam Logan

Children with autism focus of Corvallis Science Pub talk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For school-age children, the rise in autism spectrum disorder and the decrease in physical activity spell trouble. Since children diagnosed with autism tend to be more sedentary and also lag in the development of motor skills, physical activity may be more difficult to learn.

At the Nov. 10 Corvallis Science Pub, Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, will explore the connection between autism and exercise.

“Our nation is in the midst of a physical inactivity epidemic, and children with ASD have not been spared," she said. “The good news is that we can teach these physically active behaviors to help ensure a healthy future.” 

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

MacDonald received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2011. Her research focuses on how motor skills and physically active lifestyles improve the lives of children and youth with and without disabilities. She has a specific interest in the movement skills of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273

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H.J. Andrews research forest federal funding renewed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research and education at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, one of the nation’s premier ecological science sites, has received a six-year, $6.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Funds will support a new round of projects through the Long-Term Ecological Research program at the 16,000-acre Andrews forest in the Cascades east of Eugene. Since 1980, the Andrews forest has been the site of groundbreaking forest research and educational programs that serve more than 1,500 children and adults annually.

Oregon State University, the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Willamette National Forest collaborate in ecological research and application to critical resource management issues such as restoration of aquatic ecosystems, managing carbon stocks and adaptation to climate change..

The goal of the latest round of funding, known as LTER7, is to examine how forested mountain ecosystems respond to changes in climate and land-use and how people interact with the forest through ethical decision-making, said Michael Paul Nelson, the Ruth H. Spaniol chair of renewable resources at OSU and lead principal investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest LTER research program.

It is focused on a central question: How do climate, natural disturbance and land use as controlled by forest governance – the structures and processes through which people make decisions and share power – interact with biodiversity, hydrology and carbon and nutrient dynamics?

Researchers will continue to address issues such as the transport of carbon and other nutrients through air and water flows. They will study the decomposition of organic matter and changes in the timing of events such as the blossoming of plants and insect emergence from streams.

“Many aspects of LTER7 will have broader social impacts,” Nelson said. “We will continue the strong tradition of fostering public engagement and producing policy-relevant knowledge in the area of ecosystem science. We’re engaging the public, resource managers and policymakers in studies of how changing social networks influence forest landscapes. We’ll also analyze forest governance from the perspective of conservation ethics.”

Tight federal budgets made this a demanding funding year for all 26 of the locations in the Long-Term Ecological Research Network, he said. Support for the Andrews program reflects an innovative combination of physical and social science activities.

Education and outreach projects include a rich K-12 teacher-training program and a strong arts and humanities effort through the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program, which includes partnering with the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word at Oregon State.

The National Science Foundation’s review panel praised the partnership between Oregon State and the Forest Service. “It could be a model for other collaborative research groups with diverse requirements,” reviewers noted.

“The Andrews forest has offered exceptional opportunities for students and faculty, not just from OSU, but other schools and colleges, to be part of relevant, impactful research on our forest landscapes,” said Thomas Maness, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry, which houses the Andrews LTER program.

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Michael Paul Nelson, 541-737-9221

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H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

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Lookout Creek in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

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Old-growth habitat at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest

A child’s poor decision-making skills can predict later behavior problems, research shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Children who show poor decision-making skills at age 10 or 11 may be more likely to experience interpersonal and behavioral difficulties that have the potential to lead to high-risk health behavior in their teen years, according to a new study from Oregon State University psychology professor.

“These findings suggest that less-refined decision skills early in life could potentially be a harbinger for problem behavior in the future,” said Joshua Weller, an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

However, if poor decision-making patterns can be identified while children are still young, parents, educators and health professionals may have an opportunity to intervene and help those children enhance these skills, said Weller, who studies individual differences in decision-making.

“This research underscores that decision-making is a skill and it can be taught,” he said. “The earlier you teach these skills, the potential for improving outcomes increases.”

His findings were published recently in the “Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.” Co-authors are Maxwell Moholy of Idaho State University and Elaine Bossard and Irwin P. Levin of the University of Iowa. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The researchers wanted to better understand how pre-adolescent children’s decision-making skills predicted later behavior. To do so, they conducted follow-up assessments with children who had participated in a previous decision-making study.

About 100 children, ages 10 and 11, participated in the original study, where they answered questions that helped assess their decision-making skills. They were evaluated based on how they perceived the risks of a decision, their ability to use appropriate decision-making rules and whether their confidence about a decision matched their actual knowledge on a subject.

For the new study, researchers invited the original study participants - now 12 and 13 years old - and their parents back for a follow-up. In all, 76 children ages participated in the second study, which included a behavior assessment that was completed by both the parent and the child.

The behavior assessment included questions about emotional difficulties, conduct issues such as fighting or lying and problems with peers. Those kinds of behavioral issues are often linked to risky health behavior for teens, including substance abuse or high-risk sexual activity, Weller said.

Researchers compared each child’s scores from the initial decision-making assessment to the child’s and their parent’s behavioral reports. They found that children who scored worse on the initial decision-making assessment were more likely to have behavioral problems two years later.

“Previous studies of decision-making were retrospective,” Weller said. “To our knowledge, this is the first research to suggest how decision-making competence is associated with future outcomes.”

The research provides new understanding about the possible links between decision-making and high-risk behavior, Weller said. It also underscores the value of teaching decision-making and related skills such as goal-setting to youths. Some interventions have demonstrated promise in helping children learn to make better decisions, he said.

In another recent study, Weller and colleagues studied the decision-making tendencies of at-risk adolescent girls who had participated in an intervention program designed to reduce substance abuse and other risky behavior. The program emphasized self-regulation, goal-setting and anger management.

The study found that girls who received the intervention in fifth-grade demonstrated better decision-making skills when they were in high school than their at-risk peers who did not participate in the intervention program.

“Most people can benefit from decision-making training. Will it always lead to the outcome you wanted? No,” Weller said. “However, it boils down to the quality of your decision-making process.”

That is something that parents and other adults can help children learn. For instance, a parent can talk about difficult decisions with a child. By exploring multiple points of view or showing other people’s perspectives on the issue, the child learns to consider different perspectives, he said.

“Following a good process when making decisions can lead to more favorable outcomes over time,” Weller said. “Focus on the quality of the decision process, rather than the outcome.”

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Joshua Weller, 541-737-1358, Joshua.weller@oregonstate.edu

Oregon Hatchery Research Center to host open house, festival

CORVALLIS, Ore – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will hold its annual Fall Creek Festival on Saturday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The center, which is jointly operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, is located 13 miles west of Alsea on Highway 34. The event is free and open to the public.

The center is an important research site for studying similarities and differences between hatchery-raised and wild salmon and steelhead. It is located on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River.

“There has been a strong run of salmon this year throughout the Northwest, and festival participants should have an opportunity to view a number of fish,” said David Noakes, a professor of fisheries at OSU and science director for the center.

A free lunch will be provided during the festival, which also includes a number of children’s activities and workshops. Workshops begin at both 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., with topics including fish printing, water color painting, wire wrap jewelry-making, salmon cycle jewelry, bird house building, and stamping.

Registration for the festival is required since space is limited. Call 541-487-5512, or email oregonhatchery.researchcenter@state.or.us

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David Noakes, 541-737-1953, david.noakes@oregonstate.edu

Corvallis Science Pub focuses on Buddhism and science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Science and Buddhism might seem to have little in common, but they share surprising similarities. At the Oct. 13 Corvallis Science Pub, Dee Denver, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University, will explore the intersection of these two traditions.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

“Science of the West and Buddhism of the East have been separated in time and space for most of their respective histories, but recent dialogue between them has revealed many unexpected points of harmony,” said Denver. “Science and Buddhism share a value in logic and reason in shaping their respective worldviews.”

Denver is director of the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program at OSU. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, in 2002. His research team studies the evolution of genomes and symbiotic relationships in nematodes and anemones. In 2012, he was a visiting research professor at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, where he did research for an ongoing book project focused on the intersections of Buddhism and biology.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Dee Denver, 541-737-3698

OSU researcher receives NIH award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An environmental epidemiologist at Oregon State University has been selected for a prestigious award for early career scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Perry Hystad, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, is one of 17 winners of the NIH’s 2014 Early Independence Award.

Hystad will receive $250,000 each year for up to five years to support a global study on air pollution and health. He is the first researcher at Oregon State to receive an Early Independence Award since they began in 2011. He joined the OSU faculty in 2013, and earned a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia.

The awards, announced Monday by the NIH, are highly competitive grants to encourage young scientists who have demonstrated outstanding scientific creativity, intellectual maturity and leadership skills, and who have developed bold and innovative approaches to addressing health problems.

“I am extremely excited to have received the NIH Early Independence Award,” Hystad said. “This is an innovative program that will allow me to study global air pollution and health. The results will have direct implications for global, national and local policy to reduce the burden of cardiopulmonary disease.”

Recent estimates suggest that 3.2 million deaths are caused each year by outdoor air pollution, making it one of the most important modifiable risk factors affecting health, Hystad said. However, there are still a number of substantial uncertainties surrounding air pollution impacts on health and most research has been conducted in developed countries.

Hystad plans to use data from a large-scale epidemiological study to better understand how air pollution impacts cardiovascular and respiratory disease around the world, in a study including 155,000 people in 628 communities and 17 countries.

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Perry Hystad, 541-737-4829, perry.hystad@oregonstate.edu

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Aspen recovering as wildlife populations shift in Yellowstone National Park

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park is undergoing dramatic shifts with consequences that are beginning to return the landscape to conditions not seen in nearly a century, according to a series of new studies.

In the park’s northeast section, elk have decreased in number in their historic winter range in the Lamar Valley and are now more numerous outside the park. This change in elk numbers and distribution can be traced back to the reintroduction of wolves in 1995-96. Scientists have hypothesized that wolves affect both the numbers and the behavior of elk, thereby reducing the impact of browsing on vegetation, a concept known as a “trophic cascade.”

Rising grizzly bear numbers are also taking their toll on elk. As a result, lush vegetation is growing back in many but not all areas.

“Without wolves, this would not have happened,” said Luke Painter, an instructor at Oregon State University and lead author of three recent papers that describe the results of his fieldwork monitoring vegetation growth patterns in the park. “Wolves caused a fundamental change, but certainly they are interacting with other factors such as bears, climate, fire and human activity.”

Bison have also played an important role in the changes in vegetation in northern Yellowstone. Their numbers have increased four-fold as elk have decreased. In places where bison congregate, they browse on aspen, cottonwood and willow, compensating in part for the decline in elk. However, bison cannot reach as high as elk to browse, allowing more trees to escape and grow to maturity.

From 2010-12, hiking in the Yellowstone backcountry, Painter re-measured 87 aspen stands previously studied by his adviser, William Ripple, and former OSU student Eric Larsen in 1997 and 1998. Painter conducted a regional survey of stands across the northern part of the park and also in the Shoshone National Forest west of Yellowstone, where hunting and cattle grazing are allowed.

Painter detailed his findings this summer in an online report in the journal Ecology. He received his Ph.D. in the College of Forestry at Oregon State in 2013 and is now an instructor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“This new study illustrates the powerful insights you can get from taking a view over 15 years or more,” said Aaron Wirsing, an associate professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. Wirsing was not involved in Painter’s study.

“Wolf reintroduction was a landmark moment, but the changes vary throughout ecosystems as a function of other factors,” Wirsing added. “By taking an ecosystem point of view, this paper shows the complexity of the system and all its moving parts.”

For much of the 20th century, aspen appeared to be in severe decline. While studies by Ripple and his OSU colleague Robert Beschta pointed to the beginnings of an aspen recovery within a decade of wolf reintroduction, other researchers reported finding little evidence of aspen regrowth. Painter has shown that aspen recovery is widespread over much of the northern range, but where elk are still numerous, aspen stands are heavily browsed and stunted. In the famous Lamar Valley itself, bison have become the dominant herbivore, suppressing some aspen stands.

“There is a recovery of aspen happening, but it’s early and it’s not happening everywhere yet,” said Painter. “That’s the way things work in nature.”

Painter found that a quarter of all aspen stands now have five or more young aspen tall enough to escape elk browsing, a condition not seen in decades. Moreover, 46 percent of all stands have at least one tree that has grown beyond the reach of elk. Browsing rates were significantly lower in 2012 than in 1997. The greatest increases in aspen heights were in the east where Ripple and Beschta first reported signs of recovery in 2006.

Other researchers have suggested that fire and climate could be just as significant as wolves in explaining the recovery of aspen stands, but Painter found no evidence to support those possibilities. Following the severe Yellowstone fires in 1988, he said, aspen failed to recover as elk continued to browse young shoots.

In addition, aspen in northern Yellowstone showed signs of vigorous regrowth since 2000 despite relatively dry conditions, which would be likely to suppress aspen growth.

In the early 1990s, many researchers didn’t expect widespread changes to occur from wolf reintroduction, Painter said. “The idea was that if you drop some wolves in here, everything will stay about the same, but the elk population will go down. But what happens is, it mixes up the whole pot. It’s been a surprise that there are so few elk wintering in the Lamar Valley.”

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Luke Painter, 360-970-1164

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Bison in Yellowstone National Park, 2012.

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Luke Painter

Childhood asthma linked to lack of ventilation for gas stoves, OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Parents with children at home should use ventilation when cooking with a gas stove, researchers from Oregon State University are recommending, after a new study showed an association between gas kitchen stove ventilation and asthma, asthma symptoms and chronic bronchitis.

“In homes where a gas stove was used without venting, the prevalence of asthma and wheezing is higher than in homes where a gas stove was used with ventilation,” said Ellen Smit, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the study’s authors. “Parents of all children should use ventilation while using a gas stove.”

Researchers can’t say that gas stove use without ventilation causes respiratory issues, but the new study clearly shows an association between having asthma and use of ventilation, Smit said. More study is needed to understand that relationship, including whether emissions from gas stoves could cause or exacerbate asthma in children, the researchers said.

Asthma is a common chronic childhood disease and an estimated 48 percent of American homes have a gas stove that is used. Gas stoves are known to affect indoor air pollution levels and researchers wanted to better understand the links between air pollution from gas stoves, parents’ behavior when operating gas stoves and respiratory issues, said Eric Coker, a doctoral student in public health and a co-author of the study.

The study showed that children who lived in homes where ventilation such as an exhaust fan was used when cooking with gas stoves were 32 percent less likely to have asthma than children who lived in homes where ventilation was not used. Children in homes where ventilation was used while cooking with a gas stove were 38 percent less likely to have bronchitis and 39 percent less likely to have wheezing. The study also showed that lung function, an important biological marker of asthma, was significantly better among girls from homes that used ventilation when operating their gas stove.

Many people in the study also reported using their gas stoves for heating, researchers found. That was also related to poorer respiratory health in children, particularly when ventilation was not used. In homes where the gas kitchen stove was used for heating, children were 44 percent less likely to have asthma and 43 percent less likely to have bronchitis if ventilation was used. The results did not change even when asthma risk factors such as pets or cigarette smoking inside the home were taken into account, Coker said.

“Asthma is one of the most common diseases in children living in the United States,” said Molly Kile, the study’s lead author. Kile is an environmental epidemiologist and assistant professor at OSU. “Reducing exposure to environmental factors that can exacerbate asthma can help improve the quality of life for people with this condition.”

The findings were published recently in the journal “Environmental Health.” Co-authors included John Molitor and Anna Harding of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Daniel Sudakin of the College of Agricultural Sciences. The research was supported by OSU.

Researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics from 1988-1994. Data collected for NHANES is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population.

The third edition of the survey is the only one in which questions about use of gas stoves were asked, Coker said. Participants were interviewed in their homes and also underwent physical exams and lab tests.

Researchers examined data from about 7,300 children ages 2-16 who has asthma, wheezing or bronchitis and whose parents reported using a gas stove in the home. Of those who reported using no ventilation, 90 percent indicated they did not have an exhaust system or other ventilation in their homes, Coker said.

Even though the study relies on older data, the findings remain relevant because many people still use gas stoves for cooking, and in some cases, for heat in the winter, the researchers said.

“Lots of older homes lack exhaust or other ventilation,” Coker said. “We know this is still a problem. We don’t know if it is as prevalent as it was when the data was collected.”

Researchers suggest that future health surveys include questions about gas stove and ventilation use. That would allow them to see if there have been any changes in ventilation use since the original data was collected.

“More research is definitely needed,” Coker said. “But we know using an effective ventilation system will reduce air pollution levels in a home, so we can definitely recommend that.”

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Eric Coker, 206-235-2859, escoker@gmail.com; or Ellen Smit, 541-737-3833, Ellen.Smit@oregonstate.edu

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 Gas cook stove

Children with autism are more sedentary than their peers, new OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new Oregon State University study of children with autism found that they are more sedentary than their typically-developing peers, averaging 50 minutes less a day of moderate physical activity and 70 minutes more each day sitting.

The small study of 29 children, some with autism and some without, showed that children with autism perform as well as their typical peers on fitness assessments such as body mass index, aerobic fitness levels and flexibility. The results warrant expanding the study to a larger group of children, said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“These kids, compared to their peers, are similarly fit,” MacDonald said. “That’s really exciting, because it means those underlying fitness abilities are there.”

The findings were published this month in the journal “Autism Research and Treatment.” Co-authors are Kiley Tyler, a doctoral student at OSU, and Kristi Menear of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The study was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education with additional support from OSU.

For the study, researchers tested the fitness and physical activity levels of 17 children with autism and 12 children without autism. The fitness assessments, conducted in the Movement Studies in Disability Lab at OSU, included a 20-meter, multi-stage shuttle run to measure aerobic fitness; a sit-and-reach test to measure flexibility and a strength test to measure handgrip strength; as well as height, weight and body mass index measurements.

The fitness tests were selected in part because they are commonly used in schools, MacDonald said. Children in the study also wore accelerometers for a week to measure their movement, and parents filled out supplemental forms to report other important information.

Even though they were more sedentary, the children with autism lagged behind their peers on only one fitness measure, the strength test. The results were surprising but also encouraging because they show that children with autism are essentially on par with their peers when it comes to physical fitness activities, MacDonald said.

“That’s really important for parents and teachers to understand, because it opens the door for them to participate in so many activities,” she said. 

More research is needed to determine why children with autism tend to be more sedentary, MacDonald said. It may be that children with autism have fewer opportunities to participate in organized sports or physical education activities, but if that is the case, it needs to change, she said.

“They can do it. Those abilities are there,” she said. “We need to work with them to give them opportunities.”

MacDonald encourages parents to make physical activity such as a daily walk or trip to the park part of the family’s routine. She’s also an advocate for adaptive physical education programs, which are school-based programs designed around a child’s abilities and needs. Some communities also offer physical fitness programs such as soccer clubs that are inclusive for children with autism or other disabilities, she said.

“Physical fitness and physical activity are so important for living a healthy life, and we learn those behaviors as children,” MacDonald said. “Anything we can do to help encourage children with autism to be more active is beneficial.”

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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