2017, Volume 13, Issue 1

Martial arts for health benefits in children and youth with autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review

Liye Zou1, Zhongjun Xiao2, Huiru Wang3, Chaoyi Wang4, Xiujuan Hu5, Yankai Shu1

1College of Sports Science, Jishou University, China
2College of International Education, Jishou University, China
3Department of Physical Education, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China
4College of Physical Education, Jilin University, China
5Department of Physical Education, North China Electric Power University, China

Author for correspondence: Yankai Shu; College of Sports Science, Jishou University, China; email: yankaishu@yahoo.com

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Background and Study Aim: Available publications regarding the use of martial arts in therapy and rehabilitation are main premises to this research. The purpose of this study was the issue whether martial arts are effective in improving clinical symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) so to provide better management guidelines for treatment of ASD.

Material and Methods: Eight electronic databases were used for literature search, including PubMed, Cochrane Library, Google Scholar, Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro), ProQuest, Research Autism, and CliniicalTrials.gov.  After conducting the electronic search from September 2000 to August 2016, manual searches were subsequently performed through reference lists of the relevant publications. Methodological quality of 9 eligible studies was independently evaluated by two review authors using PEDro scales and the modified Clinical Relevance Tool.  

Results: Inter-reliability for study selection was 90%. When inter-reliability for evaluating the study quality was 100%, methodological quality scores for 6 randomized controlled studies and 3 case studies ranged from 7 to 8 out of 10 and 6 out of 7, respectively. Study findings demonstrated that martial arts-based interventions (internal and external styles) had positive influence on ASD-related symptoms (e.g., social interaction/communication skills, self-regulation, memory, postural control, and cognitive function) with effect size ranging from medium to high.

Conclusions: Martial arts are beneficial for individuals with ASD. It should be incorporated into rehabilitation program to help symptomatic management of ASD. A combination of internal and external styles of martial arts for individuals with ASD to maximize the positive effect should be examined in the future study.

Key words: Asian martial arts, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, rehabilitation program