People with autism are at higher risk of a sedentary lifestyle.

Dr. Laura Bassette wants to find a solution to this problem. An assistant professor of applied behavior analysis in Teachers College’s Department of Special Education, Bassette is finding ways to encourage adolescents and young adults with autism to exercise at their local gym.

An estimated one in 59 Americans have an autism diagnosis.

In working with younger people, Bassette hopes to develop a strategy for lifelong healthy habits.

People with autism, just like everybody else, have the right to a healthy life. But they may not know how to exercise, or they may not be comfortable when they are at the gym—similar to a lot of other people.

The research is familiar territory for Bassette, who has a PhD in special education from Purdue University and is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Her research, published in numerous academic journals, explores how technology and community-engaged projects can positively impact the lives of people with autism and developmental disabilities. For example, she previously looked at how everyday devices such as cell phones can be used to improve education and social skills.

Another interest is the positive impact of physical activities. A certified therapeutic horseback-riding instructor, Bassette has studied how this activity can improve conversation skills among adolescents with disabilities including autism.

For her new research, Bassette is observing how people with autism respond to exercise apps and working out with a buddy who does not have autism. The workouts happen at various community fitness sites, including the Muncie YMCAs.

She foresees the study having even greater impact on the social factors associated with autism. In learning how people with autism can feel more at home in a gym, Bassette hopes to unlock new methods to help people with autism experience comfort in community settings.

Her reason is both simple and powerful: “We want people with autism to develop a sense of belonging.”

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