In many ways, autistic children cannot enjoy the hallmarks of a “normal” childhood. Although many can learn to function socially despite the disorder (especially when it is caught early and addressed), still they will face challenges that other kids never have to consider. Walking onto a playground full of kids can quickly become overwhelming for a child that has trouble differentiating stimuli. And you might not be able to ascertain if your child’s reluctance to eat certain foods (vegetables, for example) is due to a legitimate challenge that food presents (wrong color, weird texture or smell, etc.), or if it is simply a regular sort of childish aversion to “healthy” food items. This can make your job even harder when it comes to ensuring that your autistic child is getting the nutritious diet and high activity level required to keep him/her healthy.
However, it is extremely important for autistic children to receive proper diet and exercise regimens. For one thing, their physical health may play a role in how they advance through their disorder. Just because they demand nothing but waffles and peanut-butter sandwiches doesn’t mean you have to give in. They need a balanced (and sometimes specialized) diet to stay strong and have the best chance of working through their disorder. As the parent, it is your job to provide this, no matter how difficult the task. And if you can find ways to make it into a game, or substitute equally nutritious items for those that they dislike, you’re going to make everyone’s life a lot easier.
As for exercise, the importance to autistic children (and indeed, all children) cannot be underestimated. For one thing, you may find that a child who is otherwise withdrawn will come to life when taught a sport or allowed to dance to different types of music. It can not only keep muscles strong and bodies developing normally, it can also help to expel excess energy, reduce stress, and even serve as a form of expression (especially when a child is having difficulty with speech or other forms of communication). It can even be a way for your child to interact and connect with their peers. Although it is entirely possible that complex sports or other physical games are beyond the capabilities of your child, you should experiment with all different kinds of physical activities to see if there are any he/she takes to. It could be a godsend for the both of you.
It may not always be easy to ensure that an autistic child receives the diet and exercise they need to function and develop properly, but it is important to keep trying, despite any frustrations or setbacks. The overall health of your child, as with any other, depends largely on your level of involvement. So do what you can to tailor a diet that is both nutritious and takes your child’s likes and dislikes into account. And when it comes to exercise, try to get outdoors and get moving every day. It could be helping even more than you imagine.