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UW-Madison study finds balance training can reduce severity of autism symptoms

Their caregivers reported their symptoms went from severe to moderate.
Their caregivers reported their symptoms went from severe to moderate.
Published: Jan. 9, 2022 at 1:43 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A new study out of UW-Madison used video games to teach balance and reduce the severity of autistic symptoms in young adults.

According to the study published in the journal of Brain Communications, researchers at the UW-Madison Waisman Center observed autistic adolescents learning yoga and tai chi poses on-screen via Nintendo Wii balance boards.

The teens ranged in age from 13 to 17 and were adolescents both with and without autism.

They were encouraged to hold yoga and tai chi poses on a balance board for as long as they could. The sessions took place for one hour three times a week for six weeks.

By the end of the training, participants increased their ability to hold a pose. Researchers also noted an improvement in posture, something autistic youth tend to struggle with.

For autistic individuals, balance control seems to plateau in early adolescence — earlier than their non-autistic peers — which may lead to challenges with posture and balance.

Autistic adolescents who did the balance training also reported significant decreases in autism symptom severity in areas of social communication, repetitive behavior, and restricted interests — or strong interest in specific topics or objects.

Their caregivers reported their symptoms went from severe to moderate.

“So we think that is at least proof of principle and that autism symptoms can change from motor training,” said Brittany Travers, the Waisman Center Investigator. “It’s a really unique perspective because so much of autism intervention doesn’t necessarily take into account motor features.”

She also hopes to identify outcomes of balance training that will be meaningful to autistic adolescents and further study how to use video games to both help with motor control and contribute to their quality of life.

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