Can mazes help those with autism?

I loved mazes as a child.

I remember having a whole book of mazes in the 3rd grade. My mom bought it for me at the book fair my school was hosting. I remember enjoying the maze book more than I did reading at the time!

The mazes in my book grew in complexity from quite simple mazes like this one found on PrintableMazes.net

to something slightly more complex, like this one on Krazydad.com

The fact of the matter was that I enjoyed the challenge of finding my way through a winding road. Just writing about it makes me want to dive right into another maze. [Spoiler alert: I ended up doing a maze as I was writing this and shared my results at the bottom]

But a thought struck me: can mazes help those with autism?

I looked through the internet to seek any relevant research on the subject, but mostly it appears that mazes are used as a tool to assess brain damage…in rodents.

If you look at the bigger picture though, isn’t autism a type of brain damage if you take into consideration studies on the effects of certain drugs or environmental pollutants and their connection to an autism diagnosis? Elsewhere on this site, research is discussed on how certain drugs can damage the brain of an infant…

Perhaps mazes are more relevant to autism than we think…

Original Artwork created and owned by The Librarian of TheCausesofAutism.com

Anyway, I did find an article that described research on how mazes activate the prefrontal cortex, which is interesting when considering other research that indicates how the prefrontal cortex in individuals with autism doesn’t properly communicate with posterior brain regions. Add that to the fact that other research shows that individuals with autism have an excess of (too many) neurons in their prefrontal cortex, and looks like a cocktail of issues between different parts of the brain.

I work in Applied Behavior Analysis, which is a behavioral-environmental based science. We modify the environment, namely rewards and motivating factors, to help individuals with autism learn adaptive skills and good behaviors (I mostly work in early intervention with the young kids). However, lately I’ve been doing some exploring outside of ABA to see if there are additional tools, or research, that can enhance my ABA practice.

And that’s where mazes came in.

What if mazes can be used as a ‘brain exercise’ tool for those with autism?

Currently, mazes seem to mostly be used to research the effects of brain damage on memory, planning, executive functioning, and other brain processes. However, if we flip the switch, can’t mazes be used to enhance these very same brain functions?

Although I couldn’t find research that supported several claims I mention below, I did read various articles stating that mazes can enhance children’s following skills:

  1. Fine motor skills
  2. Visual skills
  3. Eye-Hand coordination
  4. Planning Ahead/Problem Solving
  5. Patience/Persistence
  6. Build Confidence

It would be fascinating if future research investigated the benefits of doing mazes for individuals with autism. In my own practice, I would like to incorporate it somehow and use them to increase attending and focusing skills -something very difficult for most kids I work with.

When was the last time you’ve done a maze as an adult?

I invite you to complete one and see how you like it, and perhaps notice if you experience any of the benefits mentioned above.

I did this maze below found on AmazeingArt.com to have a little fun.

A maze completed by The Librarian of TheCausesofAutism.com

I can certainly say I had to be patient (5), plan ahead (4), use fine motor skills (1) to make sure I didn’t draw over any lines (which I did by accident anyway, geez Louise), and I daresay I had to use my visual skills (2) and eye hand coordination (3) to look at the maze in conjunction with planning ahead and being patient.

Overall, quite the fun experience.

Let me know if you achieve any benefits with doing mazes yourself.

Have you ever tried giving your child with autism a maze? What were the results?

If you’re an adult with autism, do you find mazes fun, interesting, annoying?

Let me know in the comments.

Have fun!

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