How running programs can help autistic children

Dusty, his mother Katie, and Paula Sen finishing the 5th Avenue Mile in September 2012 in New York City. | Fox News

By Amanda Woerner

Dusty Sweeney faces more obstacles than the average 16 year old. Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Dusty has limited verbal communication skills, and he will likely never be able to live on his own or hold a job.

But, Dusty has picked up one habit that his mother, Katie Sweeney, hopes will make his life a little better – and a little healthier.

“When he runs, he runs with a smile on his face,” Sweeney, who runs with Dusty every week in New York City’s Central Park, told

Dusty was first introduced to running by Achilles International, a group that aims to allow people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletic events. Now, Achilles has received a grant from the Cigna Foundation to initiate a study on how running can help children with autism, like Dusty.

“We have this running program, and we’ve been seeing amazing effects on kids with autism when they run – incredible physical changes, improvements in behavior and focus, improvements in so many indicators of autism that they suffer from,” Megan Wynne Lombardo, director of the Achilles Kids Running Program, told “We’d like to study this and point to the effect running has on these kids.”

Sweeney said she’s definitely seen a difference in Dusty’s behavior since he began running in 2012. As Dusty progressed through his early teens, the family struggled to help him cope with aggressive behaviors, such as hitting and self-injury. But in recent months, they’ve seen improvements in his behavior, which Katie attributes to both running and an anti-inflammatory diet.  Continue reading


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