Mon 29 May 2023 3:22 pm - Jerusalem Time

Chess to enhance the abilities of people with cognitive disorders or autism

Inside the Center for Educational Medicine in Villars, near Paris, adolescents with disabilities learn the basics of chess on a piece of cloth similar to a large chessboard, in an experiment aimed at evaluating the benefits of this brain sport on cognitive or autism-related disorders.

As a member of the White Stones team, Maxime Becave hesitates about the step he will take among the several black squares surrounding him, then makes his decision standing on the piece of cloth on which the black and white squares appear, in light of the looks of his three colleagues who share the game and his specialized teacher, Jean-Francois Porsche.

And Becave, 18, has autism, while his colleagues Angeline, Othman and Ethan suffer from cognitive disorders. And each of them wears a crown with the symbol that it represents, like a piece in chess, so one of them puts a crown that shows the symbol of the bishop, for example, while the crown of another teenager represents the rook (the castle).

And soon Angeline, who boasts that she represents the most powerful piece in the game, the queen, quickly eliminates Maxim from the game. "The goal of this experience is not limited to winning and losing only, but they experience the game themselves," says Borcher.

"I imagine myself in a kingdom," says Maxim.

The Center for Educational Medicine in Villars, where about sixty children and young people between the ages of 6 and 20 receive medical care, is one of the four French centers that participated in the testing phase of the "Infinite" program, which is implemented by the French Chess Federation in France. It is expected that the number of these centers will increase to forty by 2024, because the first results prove the effectiveness of the program.

"If the study proves to be effective in the long term, it could make chess part of the non-drug treatment that health professionals recommend to parents of patients to help their children progress," said Frank Drouin, Head of the Department of Health, Social Affairs and Disability at the federation.

Teaching chess to teenagers comes in three stages. The first is represented by a chess board placed on the wall, where the specialist explains to the teenagers the basics of the game. In the second stage, a large piece of cloth placed on the ground represents a chess board, to move finally to the regular board, where teenagers play on it like everyone else. As the specialist explains.

Borchet points out that a physical-based style of play would improve how they interact with spaces, which is key for these youngsters, who should "gain as much independence as possible so that they no longer need their parents," as well as better manage their time. And control the stress they feel.

And after 10 sessions since September, the teens, especially those with cognitive disorders, are "more attentive" and are developing strategies, says Borcher.

"Often these teens don't value themselves very much, but when they notice that they are making progress they feel confident."

“At first I had a lot of difficulties dealing with my movement, but today I am sure that I can become Boboyogov!” Maxim says, a name inspired by his imagination, similar in its syllables to the names of Russian heroes he admires.
The "Infinite" program, which was tested by the International Chess Federation on a larger scale, is implemented in about fifteen countries other than France, including Belarus, Spain, Morocco and Mongolia.

Jean-Francois Porchet shows reservations regarding the cases of some patients who “difficult to attract their attention,” noting that “some are unable to control their movements if their role in the game exceeds the movement of three or four times.”

He points out that he dealt with children who refused to be "eaten" in the game (i.e. excluded from it on the grounds that the stronger piece eliminates the weaker one), because they did not understand the figurative meaning of the word.

In addition to the medical-educational centers, the French Chess Federation would like to organize this program in other places, such as classes for students with disabilities in schools.

"At the Villars Centre, we can share this program with schools as we do when it comes to dance, and thus ensure that segregation does not continue," says Jean-François Boucher.


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Chess to enhance the abilities of people with cognitive disorders or autism