Sportsmanship Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review
Children with autism often have impairments in social behaviors which can lead to difficulties in developing meaningful friendships with peers (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003). Deficits in social interactions including appropriate commenting and turn taking in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can result in problems in understanding abstract games and displaying sportsmanship behaviors. Previously, good sportsmanship has been defined as guiding the behavior of peers in a constructive direction, working together and playing cooperatively, and independently solving peer conflict (Kohlberg, 1963). However, these higher order social-communication skills may be difficult for individuals with autism. Developing sportsmanship behaviors, such as turn-taking, positive comments, and treating other players with respect, are instrumental skills to successful inclusion and engagement in team sports and leisure games. Children with autism may need to be explicitly taught sportsmanship behaviors to promote appropriate and effective participation in team sports and board games. While many researchers have studied social skills interventions for individuals with ASD, fewer studies have examined specifically targeting sportsmanship skills for individuals with autism.
The purpose of current systematic literature review is to: (a)identify interventions used to teach sportsmanship skills , (b) identify the effectiveness of the interventions used, and (c) identify methodological limitations within this body of research.
Electronic database searches were conducted using PsycINFO, ERIC, and Academic Premiere with the combined set of keyword search terms: (1) autis*, OR Asperger*; OR PDD-NOS, (3) sports* OR “board game*” OR “social skills” OR “play. Articles were coded for participant demographics, methodology, intervention type, target outcomes, and quality of empirical evidence (Reichow, et al., 2011).
There was a total of 41 children included in the review from the 12 studies. The researchers targeted multiple domains of social-communication behaviors during game play or during unstructured school recess periods. From the articles reviewed, intervention targets included social skills, play skills, and sportsmanship skills. Various types of interventions and strategies including 1:1 social skills intervention, social narratives, Power Card, and Cool versus Not Cool were implemented to improve sportsmanship behaviors for individuals with autism. Of the studies reviewed, all the researchers reported increases in the targeted behaviors. Using Reichow’s method for evaluating empirical evidence, the studies included ranged from weak to strong rigor ratings.
Overall, results revealed that sportsmanship interventions may be a promising strategy to increase appropriate game play with peers. The specific strategies used to broadly teach sportsmanship behavior were flexible and varied in intensity in the studies reviewed. For studies using 1:1 support, results indicated improvements in turn taking, eye contact, and social interactions with peers in a small group. Social narrative strategies, such as social stories and the Power Card, reported increases in losing graciously and treating players with respect, and decreases in whining after game loss. Although these positive results should be interpreted with caution because of the small number of studies and methodical issues, they suggest that interventions can teach behaviors with autism sportsmanship behaviors.