Video Games Help Improve Balance, Reduce Symptoms in Teens with Autism

Motor skills can be a struggle for people on the autism spectrum. This includes the ability to balance. A new study has found that video games using a balance board may help with this issue, and the benefits may extend beyond motor skills.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison had teens with autism play Nintendo Wii games in which participants mimic tai chi and yoga poses atop a balance board. The findings, published in the journal Brain Communications, show that these games helped improve balance, as well as other symptoms related to autism.


Brittany Travers, study co-author and occupational therapy professor, says teens with autism tend to see their balance control plateau before their neurotypical peers. These issues with motor control are linked with more severe autism symptoms and more trouble completing day-to-day tasks. She’s interested in learning more about this link.

She explains, “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.”

To investigate, the team had teens with and without autism hold yoga and tai chi poses as long as possible. The longer they held these poses, an image on the screen would become brighter, which researchers say provided participants instant feedback about how well they were doing. Halfway through each session, they were allowed to play other games. These hour-long practice sessions were held three times a week for six weeks.


The researchers said by the end of this period, participants were able to hold a pose for an average of 36 seconds longer than they had at the beginning of the study. This improvement could have real world implications.

Travers explains, “If we think about what it takes to brace yourself, if you’re starting to slip on ice or stepping into a tub, that extra 36 seconds could be something that prevents you from actually falling.”

The benefits didn’t stop there. Participants also had a marked improvement in their ability to maintain posture, as well as a significant decrease in the severity of communication issues, repetitive behavior, and strong interest in one thing. Additionally, MRI scans showed changes in white matter tracts involved in both motor skills and autism symptoms.


Researchers also point out that both teens with autism and those who were neurotypical learned the games at the same rate.

Travers says, “We’re seeing that this video game world might be a place where autistic individuals may excel, and where these cognitive differences that we’re measuring in an IQ test just simply don’t seem to apply.”

If you’d like to read more about the study, click here.

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