Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle with executive functions and motor skills. A pilot from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston recently tested an intervention that addresses both issues using an exercise game—or exergame. The children who played the game demonstrated improved motor skills and executive function abilities. The findings could lead to a way to interest children with ASD in regular physical activity.
For the study, 17 school-aged children and adolescents with an ASD diagnosis completed 30 two-minute sessions in an exergame called the Makoto arena. The Makoto arena features a triangular play area with pillars at each corner. The pillars light up and make noise when the player hits the correct spots. The game’s speed increases once the player reaches 95 percent accuracy. The children played in the Makoto arena for an average of six sessions per week, with a cumulative 1,800 attempts to hit the targets.
The participants demonstrated significant improvements in executive function and motor skills after playing in the Makoto arena. In particular, working memory (an aspect of executive function), strength, and agility skills benefited from the exergame.
“We think that the exertion of participating in this type of game helps to improve the neural connections in the brains of these children,” stated Claudia Hilton, study co-author and associate professor at UTMB. “It is difficult to get children with autism to participate in physically exerting activities, so finding an activity like the Makoto arena that they will actually do over an extended period like this is very exciting.”
The results suggest that exercise games generally, and the Makoto arena specifically, could be part of interventions for children with ASD who have motor and executive function impairments.
This research is published in the International Journal for Sports and Exercise Medicine.
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