Problems with social functioning are a major area of difficulty for children with autism. This can have a hugely negative influence on several aspects of the lives of these kids, including their ability to access education.
A recent study looked to examine how, if at all, video games could improve the way children with autism socialise.
A pool of 100 children with autistic spectrum disorder were randomly allocated, controlling where possible for age and gender, to either an intervention or a control group.
Over a nine month period, the children in the intervention group were encouraged to play "Mario & Sonic at the Olympics" on Nintendo Wii, in addition to their routine school physical education classes. The control group only attended the classes, without playing the game.
After one year, analysis of the changes in social functioning (measured by researchers and teachers) showed that boys allocated to the gaming group had made statistically significant improvement in their functioning when compared with those who attended the PE classes alone. The number of girls in the study was too small for any change to reach statistical significance.
The researchers concluded playing the game does indeed appear to have potential as a mechanism to produce improvement in the social functioning, at least of boys, as part of a physical education program. Chalk up another win for video games doing good in the world.