A 2020 study published in Brain Sciences provides promising evidence that a mini-basketball training program can benefit preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As adapted PE teachers and coaches, this research has important implications for how we structure physical activity programs for young children with ASD.
The study examined the effects of a 12-week mini-basketball training program on 33 children ages 3-6 years old with ASD. The training incorporated fundamental movement skills, coordination, and basic basketball skills and games. Compared to a control group that maintained normal activities, the mini-basketball training group showed significant improvements in:
- Executive functioning – including working memory, inhibition, and regulation
- Core ASD symptoms – reduced social communication impairment and repetitive behaviors
The researchers suggest the cognitive demands posed by learning new motor skills may have helped train executive functions. Additionally, the positive, collaborative environment and repeated body movements may have reduced restrictive behaviors.
As the authors conclude, this mini-basketball training program may be an effective complementary intervention for preschoolers with ASD. The skills worked in this training are appropriate for young children and can be adapted for various abilities.
Some ideas for adapted PE teachers and coaches:
- Incorporate more coordinative exercises and motor skill learning, not just aerobic activities
- Use basic sports like basketball to work on skills in a fun, engaging way
- Emphasize group activities that promote social interaction
- Aim for an inclusive, positive environment that supports ASD students
- Work on repetitive body movements to help reduce restrictive behaviors
- Partner with occupational therapists to target executive functioning
Starting adapted physical activity early, as this study did, may set up ASD children for better regulation and focus as they develop. This research reminds us of the broad benefits movement can have – physical, social, cognitive – for students with ASD.
Citation: Wang, J.-G., Cai, K.-L., Liu, Z.-M., Herold, F., Zou, L., Zhu, L.-N., Xiong, X., & Chen, A.-G. (2020). Effects of Mini-Basketball Training Program on Executive Functions and Core Symptoms among Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Brain Sciences, 10(5), 263. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10050263