Date of Award

Spring 2019


Capstone - Open Access


Public Health and Nutrition

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

April Bowling


Background: Children with all types of disabilities are more likely to be inactive due to a variety of factors. Children with neurodevelopmental challenges such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression face unique barriers to exercise, including increased demands on parenting resources. Thus there is a critical need for interventions understand parental perspectives and address such barriers in neurodiverse youth. The aim of this study was to explore parental perceptions of a novel exergaming and virtual health coaching intervention targeting neurodiverse youth, including barriers and facilitators of their children’s engagement, in order to help tailor future interventions. Methods: Parents of three children taking part in formative research prior to a full intervention pilot were interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide. Phone interviews were recorded and transcribed without identifying information. Themes were identified during joint review of transcripts by two researchers using an adapted grounded theory approach. Results: Three parents of participants (1 middle school, 2 high school; 2 male) took part. Important barriers identified included easy frustration with gaming technology, feeling defeated by game avatars, burden of coordinating participation in the intervention, and desire for different types of games (non-sporting or non-dance). Parents felt strongly that participation had improved their children’s perceptions of exercise and overall exercise engagement. Suggestions for improvement included utilizing games without a competitive component, creating integrated intervention interface for parents, participants, and coaches, and using newer technologies (such as virtual reality). Conclusions: The home-based, school-supported GameSquad exergaming intervention shows potential to improve physical activity engagement in this population, however, barriers remain that should be addressed prior to upscaling. Modifications such as integrated intervention interfaces and more diverse gaming options would help improve intervention engagement and decrease parental burden.