Objective To verify the efficacy of Karate, a complex psychomotor activity that enhances executive function and social reading, in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). ASD comprise a group of complex neuro-developmental conditions, the core symptoms of which, variably expressed clinically, include abnormal language development, both quantitative and qualitative, social–cognitive difficulties ranging from extreme social isolation to interpersonal rigidity and obsessive-like behaviours, along with repetitive motor behaviours, either tic-like stereotypies or more complex sequences which, however, appear to be purposeless. ASD are a significant source of social and financial stress for families and caregivers and are life long conditions.
The treatment approach to ASD is by definition multimodal and must address all clinical manifestations. Physical activity and sport in particular have been used effectively in the treatment of developmental disorders, particularly as an ancillary modality.
Methods A group of seven children with ASD participated in a Wa Do Ryu Karate program alongside typically developing peers. A group of seven age matched children with ASD did not participate and received standard multimodal therapies and/or medication.
Results Clinically and statistically significant improvements were noted in the Karate group with regards to social skills, including language and attention, as well as motor behaviours characteristic of ASD, as measured through standardized severity scales.
Conclusions The present study confirms the effectiveness of Karate, as described elsewhere, in the treatment of developmental disorders and as part of a normalization approach to childhood psychiatric conditions through the use of sport.