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Game Can Improve Physical & Mental Fitness in Autism

Game Can Improve Physical & Mental Fitness in Autism

New research suggests playing a specialized game can help to improve physical and mental fitness among children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers from the occupational therapy and rehabilitation departments at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston determined the use of exergaming, more specifically the Makoto arena, has the potential to serve as a valuable addition to therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders who have motor and executive function impairments.

Executive function is associated with higher levels of intelligence involved with planning and organize. It is used to redirect higher thinking when changing plans and suppressing inappropriate behaviors. Executive function is important for being able to live independently as adults.

“We think that the exertion of participating in this type of game helps to improve the neural connections in the brains of these children,” said Dr.¬†Claudia Hilton, an associate professor.

Researchers worked with 17 subjects with an autism diagnosis over 30 sessions for over 1,800 total attempts to hit the targets. They found children improved in response speed, executive function and motor skills among children with ASD.

Researcher explain that children with ASD often experience executive function and motor impairments. They also experience lower rates of physical activity than children without ASD. As they get older, their physical activity declines and they deal with obesity problems more than other children.

As a way to combat a lack of physical activity, researchers investigated the use of the Makoto arena, a triangular shaped arena with pillars at each point, each with lights and sounds at various levels of the pillars. Those playing the game must hit the correct spots as they light up on different pillars.

The study used 17 school-aged children and adolescents with ASD in two-minute sessions in the Makoto arena. The speed of the game increased when the participants reached 95 percent accuracy. Subjects competed in the Makoto arena an average six sessions per week.

The study saw significant improvements across several physical and mental areas, including response speed. All areas of executive function improved, especially working memory. Motor ability also improved, especially in the areas of strength and agility.

“It is difficult to get children with autism to participate in physically exerting activities,” Hilton said. “So finding an activity like the Makoto arena that they will actually do over an extended period like this is very exciting.”

The study is published in The International Journal for Sports and Exercise Medicine.

Source: University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

Game Can Improve Physical & Mental Fitness in Autism

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Game Can Improve Physical & Mental Fitness in Autism. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 24 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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