Could A Video Game Help Reduce Autism Symptoms?

by Shaun Heasley, Disaability Scoop | January 21, 2022

Brittany Travers, a University of Wisconsin–Madison investigator, with a study participant during a training session for a video game that helps improve balance in teenagers with autism. (Andy Manis/UW System)

New research suggests that a balance-training video game could not only lead to improvements in posture for teens with autism, but it could also reduce symptoms of the developmental disability.

After six weeks of balance training using a specially designed Nintendo Wii game, adolescents with autism showed better stability in their posture and significantly reduced severity in symptoms related to social communication, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests, according to findings published recently in the journal Brain Communications.

The study looked at 34 people with autism and 28 without, all between the ages of 13 and 17, who were randomly assigned to participate in the balance-training intervention three times each week or play sedentary video games.

Those in the intervention group were asked to hold yoga and tai chi poses for as long as possible while standing on a balance board. An image on a screen would get brighter the longer they held the pose. Halfway through the hour-long sessions the participants could play other video games.

When the sessions ended, participants in the intervention group had increased the time they could hold a pose by an average of 36 seconds, the study found.

In addition, researchers said that MRIs conducted before the intervention started and after it concluded showed changes in the brain structure of those who did the balance training. However, the changes were different in adolescents with and without autism.

The improvements in autism symptoms, which were reported by caregivers, were also significant, going from severe to moderate, the findings show. But, researchers did not see any difference in daily living skills for those who participated in the intervention.

Brittany Travers, an occupational therapy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked on the study, noted that motor control issues are predictive of more severe autism symptoms and difficulty with daily living skills. She said it may take longer for changes in daily living skills to come about.

“I’m really interested in trying to better understand if there is some type of third variable that explains the relationship that every (study) kept finding in terms of motor and core autism features,” she said.

The adolescents in the control group did not see improvements in motor control or their autism symptoms, according to the findings.

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