Sport Involvement for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disabilities
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Little is known about sport participation in youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The current research is the first to systematically examine correlates and outcomes associated with sport involvement in youth with ASD and used two interrelated studies to address several gaps in the literature. Study 1 examined characteristics of sport involvement (frequency, diversity, positive social experiences [PSE]) for youth with intellectual disability (ID) alone compared to youth with ASD+ID and explored the personal and contextual correlates of involvement. Parents (N = 409) of youth involved in Special Olympics (SO) completed an online survey. Although youth with ASD+ID did not differ from youth with ID alone in their frequency or diversity of sport participation, youth with ID alone had higher scores for PSE compared to youth with ASD+ID. Sociocommunicative abilities, coach relationship and resources mediated the relationship between ASD status and PSE. Study 2 built on the first study by examining how sport involvement was related to psychosocial difficulties and strengths in youth with ASD+ID and ID alone. First, characteristics of sport involvement were examined as correlates of psychosocial difficulties over one year in youth with ASD+ID and ID alone in SO (N = 115). Second, a sample of youth with ASD+ID who did not participate in sport (N = 58) was compared to the athletes on psychosocial strengths and difficulties. In youth with ASD+ID, but not youth with ID alone, more frequent and social sport involvement was related to improved hyperactivity and peer problems, while more diverse sport participation was associated with greater emotional and hyperactivity problems. Youth with ID also had lower psychosocial difficulties and greater psychosocial strengths than youth with ASD+ID in sport, and youth with ASD+ID who were not involved with sport had greater difficulties than those who were involved. These findings from the present studies are the first to highlight the discrepancy in sport participation and outcomes for youth with ASD+ID compared to their peers in sport. A better understanding of the factors related to sport is essential for helping teams, families, and communities foster more positive and healthy sport engagement for youth with ASD+ID.