Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various ‘ninja’ poses could help children with autism improve their balance and posture, a study suggests. Balance challenges are more common among people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to the broader population. Difficulties with balance and postural stability are commonly thought to relate to more severe ASD symptoms and impaired activities in daily living, said Brittany Travers from University of Wisconsin–Madison in the US. “We think this video game-based training could be a unique way to help individuals with ASD who have challenges with their balance address these issues,” said Travers. In this pilot study – the largest ever to look at the effects of balance training on individuals with ASD – 29 participants between the ages of seven and 17 with ASD completed a six-week training programme playing a video game developed by the researchers.
By the end of the programme, study participants showed significant improvements in not only their in-game poses but also their balance and posture outside of the game environment. According to Travers, balance improvements outside the video game context are especially important. “Our participants are incredibly clever when it comes to finding ways to beat video games!” she said. “We wanted to make sure that the improvements we were seeing were truly balance-related and not limited to the video game,” she added.
Ten out of 11 study participants who completed a post- game questionnaire also said they enjoyed playing the video games. “We have couched a rigorous exercise (by the end of some gaming sessions, participants had been standing on one foot for 30 minutes) in a video game format, so we were delighted to hear that the participants enjoyed the game,” she said. “Players see themselves on the screen doing different ‘ninja’ poses and postures, and they are rewarded for doing those poses and postures; that’s how they advance in the game,” said Travers.