Motor and psychosocial development in children with autism spectrum disorder through soccer

Alberto Cei *, Paolo Franceschi **, Michele Rosci **, Daniela Sepio *** and Bruno Ruscello ****

(*) San Raffaele University, Roma, Italy
(**) AS Roma Football Club, Roma, Italy
(***) ASD Calcio Integrato, Roma, Italy
(****) Tor Vergata University, Roma, Italy

The goal of this investigation was to study in a naturalistic intervention the effects on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) of a training program based on teaching a sport team, like soccer. The “Soccer Together Program” recruited 30 children (6-13 year old) with ASD from the public school of Roma, Italy. Specifically, this investigation wanted to promote the psychosocial, motor and soccer competences of these children. No other study has been conducted in team sports, while till now the data, result based, come from individual sports, like running or swimming (Luiselli, 2014; Sowa and Meulenbrock, 2012). To assess the impact of the training program on the psychosocial skills (collaboration, communication, socialization, problematic behaviors, self support and families) it has been used a qualitative approach to know, in absence of other documented experiences, this specific phenomenon and to formulate the intervention model. The qualitative approach of the psychosocial skills was conducted interviewing the parents at the beginning and the end of the training period. To analyze the results of the motor and soccer training the assessment has been done through the parents’ interview about the global motor improvement and the ball approach and with a quantitative analysis on 10 motor skills. The results showed the parents perceived that most of the children with ASD improved their psychosocial and motor skills, with differences according to the severity of their autism. Regarding of motor skills quantitatively assessed, the children improved significantly on 6 tests out of 10. In relation of the soccer skills, run with the ball, 39.3% of children did not show any improvement, 28.6% reached an intermediate level and 10.7% a medium-high level of skill.

Keywords: Autism, Parents, Motor skills, Psychosocial skills, Soccer