A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of physical activity for people with autism spectrum disorder

Liam graduated from the Master of Public Health (MPH) programme at ScHARR in 2016 with Distinction. He decided to study for an MPH because he wanted to develop the skills he had learnt in his undergraduate psychology degree in public health research, a field of study that combined his interests in biology, sociology and medicine at a population level. Throughout the programme, Liam was able to advance his knowledge of statistics and health psychology, while learning completely new skills in epidemiology, disease control and systematic reviewing. He also worked outside the taught modules as Vice-President of the Public Health Society, where he was primarily responsible for planning activities and events for students on the programme. Liam is currently working as a Research Assistant at the University College London Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health. He is working on a project exploring factors influencing STI testing behaviour of young people in the UK, using a theory-based online questionnaire.



Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages and across cultures. It is believed that autism spectrum disorder can contribute to lower levels of physical activity in people with the condition. Interest in the factors mediating this relationship has increased in recent years.


To identify the barriers to and facilitators of physical activity for people with autism spectrum disorder.


Systematic review.

Data Sources

ASSIA, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Social Care Online, Web of Science, IBSS, LISA PEI, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts and NAS Library Catalogue. Hand searching of reference lists of identified articles was also conducted.

Eligibility Criteria

Journal articles published in the English language from 1943 to March 2016. Journal articles were required to contain qualitative data relating to physical activity in people with autism spectrum disorder.


Seventeen studies were included in the data synthesis. Most of the barriers and facilitators were labelled as either personal, social, environmental or policy and programme related. Using physical activity to reduce social stress was also a facilitator of physical activity.


Results from this synthesis can inform interventions and policies to encourage people with autism spectrum disorder to engage in physical activity. Further qualitative research would be beneficial to developing a more accurate picture of barriers and facilitators relevant to adults with autism spectrum disorder.