Brittany Travers, a professor in the occupational therapy program at UW-Madison, is studying whether using Wii video games can make the symptoms of children with autism spectrum disorder less severe by improving their motor skills, according to a university release.
Travers’ study, conducted in her lab at the Waisman Center, involves subjects playing various games using a Wii Balance Board. Between play times they are told to stand in various poses, and outlines of their bodies appear on the screen. Red spots are placed where their positioning is incorrect, and these dots become yellow once the error is corrected. Travers also tests her subject’s IQ, social communication behaviors and general motor skills. According to the release, Travers takes brain scans before and after the experiments to note structural changes that may occur.
Debate about whether motor impairments lead to social impairments or vice versa has long circulated among autism researchers and parents with autistic children. Travers does not agree with either of these theories, and plans to use the results of her experiment to expose a better answer.
“From our model, if symptom severity is downstream from this brain region, theoretically, it would follow that we could change it,” Travers said in the release.
One of Travers’ subjects, 9-year-old Xavier Hansen, has experienced improvements in his balance, according to his mother Gail Hansen. According to the release, he has attended the study three days a week for six weeks, and has trained on the Balance Board, under the supervision of Travers, for hour-long sessions.
Because examining the brains of rapidly aging children is a long process, Travers said that her project will take time. She is, however, looking to immediately improve the lives of those struggling with symptoms of autism.
“Are there things we can do to help them in their daily lives now?” Travers said in the release.