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J Autism Dev Disord (2014) 44:990–991

DOI 10.1007/s10803-014-2044-7


John J. Ratey (2008): Spark: The revolutionary new science

of exercise and the brain. Unabridged, 9 hours, 28 minutes
Gildan Media Corp., New York, NY, Retrieved from

Ernst VanBergeijk

Published online: 31 January 2014

Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the Although the book does not contain any direct research
brain explores the latest research on the impact exercise involving individuals on the autism spectrum, the impli-
has upon the brain. Ratey, a psychiatrist by training; pro- cations of the book are enormous. A child with an autism
vides the listener with an easily comprehensible synthesis spectrum label is 42 % more likely to also have a label of
of the both animal and human subjects research in the area obesity than his or her neurotypical peers. Exercise alone
of neurobiology and plasticity in particular. Both the lay could address the obesity issue and its life shortening
and the professional audiences will extract useful infor- sequelae in this population. However, much of the research
mation from Spark. Ratey covers a wide range of interests covered in this book addresses the co-morbid disorders that
including exercise’s impact upon the brain in terms of frequently affect people on the spectrum namely, Attention
learning, attention, executive functioning, mood regulation, Deficit Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and
and the control of aggressive behaviors. The studies were depression. These studies indicated one of the benefits of
conceived to address a wide range of afflictions including exercise was a decreased reliance upon medication as a
obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder, Generalized Anxiety sole intervention strategy with these issues. Some indi-
Disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, menopause, and viduals were able to lower dosages of their medications and
even the decline in math and science scores among high others were able to give up medication entirely.
school students in the United States. I attended a conference not too long ago where the
A synthesis of research findings sounds like it would be presenters from the Boston Higashi School presented a
a dreadfully boring read. However, Ratey presents it in a paper on their exercise program. The Boston Higashi
way that is entertaining, engaging and informative. After School serves students who are highly affected by autism.
listening to the book, the listener has the urge to go for a Part of the program included running two miles daily first
brisk walk or a jog. He accomplishes this by providing a thing in the morning as a part of the students’ learning
number of case studies to support the research findings that readiness. The practice is supported by the research found
enrich the book. The most fascinating case study is that of in Ratey’s book. Individuals attend better and are able to
Naperville, Illinois whose school district conducted an retain more information directly after aerobic exercise. One
experiment involving the implementation of a physical side effect the presenters noted was that now, none of their
fitness program with 19,000 students. The result of the students were taking any psychotropic medication.
experiment was that the students went from being below Whereas prior to the implementation of the exercise pro-
average on academic tests of math and science to scoring gram, over half of the students were taking some sort of
the highest scores on these standardized tests in the world. medication to help with mood stabilization or sleep.
We need to call upon policy makers to set aside funding
for research on the benefits of aerobic exercise among
E. VanBergeijk (&) individuals on the autism spectrum. By identifying the
Vocational Independence Program, New York Institute of
potential benefits of exercise in this population and by
Technology, 300 Carleton Avenue, Room 112 Independence
Hall, Central Islip, NY 11722, USA developing effective ways to help individuals on the
e-mail: spectrum to incorporate daily exercise into their lifestyles,

J Autism Dev Disord (2014) 44:990–991 991

not only will people on the spectrum benefit, but society Ratey’s book provides us with a guide post to a new line
will as well through the potential lowering of medical costs of science inquiry in the field of autism and a set of new
associated with obesity alone. The medical costs can potential guidelines in the program development of ser-
potentially be lowered further by eliminating the use of vices to individuals on the autism spectrum. He also moves
some medications for individuals who are marginally the listener to make changes in his or her own life in terms
affected by co-morbid disorders whose symptoms could be of his or her relationship to aerobic exercise.
managed by exercise alone.