Autism notes: link between motor ability and social deficits


Children with weaker motor skills have greater social communicative skill deficits.

MacDonald, M., Lord, C., & Ulrich, D. (2013). The relationship of motor skills and adaptive behavior skills in young children with autism spectrum disorders.Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(11), 1383–1390.

Objective:To determine the relationship of motor skills and the core behaviors of young children with autism, social affective skills and repetitive behaviors, as indicated through the calibrated autism severity scores.
Design: The univariate GLM tested the relationship of gross and fine motor skills measured by the gross motor scale and the fine motor scale of the MSEL with autism symptomology as measured by calibrated autism severity scores. 
Setting: Majority of the data collected took place in an autism clinic.
Participants: A cohort of 159 young children with ASD (n=110), PDD-NOS (n=26) and non-ASD (developmental delay, n=23) between the ages of 12–33 months were recruited from early intervention studies and clinical referrals. Children with non-ASD (developmental delay) were included in this study to provide a range of scores indicted through calibrated autism severity.

MacDonald M, Lord C, Ulrich DA. The relationship of motor skills and social communicative skills in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2013 Jul;30(3):271-82. PubMed PMID: 23860508.

Motor skill deficits are present and persist in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; Staples & Reid, 2010). Yet the focus of intervention is on core impairments, which are part of the diagnostic criteria for ASD, deficits in social communication skills. The purpose of this study is to determine whether the functional motor skills, of 6- to 15-year-old children with high-functioning ASD, predict success in standardized social communicative skills. It is hypothesized that children with better motor skills will have better social communicative skills. A total of 35 children with ASD between the ages of 6-15 years participated in this study. The univariate GLM (general linear model) tested the relationship of motor skills on social communicative skills holding constant age, IQ, ethnicity, gender, and clinical ASD diagnosis. Object-control motor skills significantly predicted calibrated ASD severity (p < .05). Children with weaker motor skills have greater social communicative skill deficits. How this relationship exists behaviorally, needs to be explored further.

MacDonald M, Lord C, Ulrich DA. Motor skills and calibrated autism severity in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2014 Apr;31(2):95-105. doi: 10.1123/apaq.2013-0068. PubMed PMID: 24762385."

In addition to the core characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), motor skill deficits are present, persistent, and pervasive across age. Although motor skill deficits have been indicated in young children withautism, they have not been included in the primary discussion of early intervention content. One hundred fifty-nine young children with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD (n = 110), PDD-NOS (n = 26), and non-ASD (n = 23) between the ages of 14-33 months participated in this study.1 The univariate general linear model tested the relationship of fine and gross motor skills and social communicative skills (using calibrated autism severity scores). Fine motor and gross motor skills significantly predicted calibrated autism severity (p < .05). Children with weaker motor skills have greater social communicative skill deficits. Future directions and the role of motor skills in early intervention are discussed.

Green D, Charman T, Pickles A, Chandler S, Loucas T, Simonoff E, Baird G. Impairment in movement skills of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2009 Apr;51(4):311-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03242.x. Epub 2008 Feb 3. PubMed PMID: 19207298.

AIM: We undertook this study to explore the degree of impairment in movement skills in children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and a wide IQ range.
METHOD: Movement skills were measured using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (M-ABC) in a large, well defined, population-derived group of children (n=101: 89 males,12 females; mean age 11y 4mo, SD 10mo; range 10y-14y 3mo) with childhood autism and broader ASD and a wide range of IQ scores. Additionally, we tested whether a parent-completed questionnaire, the Developmental Coordination Disorder Questionnaire (DCDQ), was useful in identifying children who met criteria for movement impairments after assessment (n=97 with complete M-ABCs and DCDQs). 
RESULTS: Of the children with ASD, 79% had definite movement impairments on the M-ABC; a further 10% had borderline problems. Children with childhood autism were more impaired than children with broader ASD, and children with an IQ less than 70 were more impaired than those with IQ more than 70. This is consistent with the view that movement impairments may arise from a more severe neurological impairment that also contributes to intellectual disability and more severe autism. Movement impairment was not associated with everyday adaptive behaviour once the effect of IQ was controlled for. The DCDQ performed moderately well as a screen for possible motor difficulties. 
INTERPRETATION: Movement impairments are common in children with ASD. Systematic assessment of movement abilities should be considered a routine investigation.

Travers BG, Powell PS, Klinger LG, Klinger MR. Motor difficulties in autism spectrum disorder: linking symptom severity and postural stability. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Jul;43(7):1568-83. doi: 10.1007/s10803-012-1702-x. PubMed PMID: 23132272.

Postural stability is a fundamental aspect of motor ability that allows individuals to sustain and maintain the desired physical position of one's body. The present study examined postural stability in average-IQ adolescents and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Twenty-six individuals with ASD and 26 age-and-IQ-matched individuals with typical development stood on one leg or two legs with eyes opened or closed on a Wii balance board. Results indicated significant group differences in postural stability during one-legged standing, but there were no significant group differences during two-legged standing. This suggests that static balance during more complex standing postures is impaired in average-IQ individuals with ASD. Further, current ASD symptoms were related to postural stability during two-legged standing in individuals with ASD. Future directions and clinical implications are discussed.

​Implicit motor learning in autism

Izadi-Najafabadi S, Mirzakhani-Araghi N, Miri-Lavasani N, Nejati V, Pashazadeh-Azari Z. Implicit and explicit motor learning: Application to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Res Dev Disabil. 2015 Dec;47:284-96. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2015.09.020. Epub 2015 Oct 23. PubMed PMID: 26458260.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: This study aims to determine whether children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are capable of learning a motor skill both implicitly and explicitly.

METHODS: In the present study, 30 boys with ASD, aged 7-11 with IQ average of 81.2, were compared with 32 typical IQ- and age-matched boys on their performance on a serial reaction time task (SRTT). Children were grouped by ASD and typical children and by implicit and explicit learning groups for the SRTT.

RESULTS: Implicit motor learning occurred in both children with ASD (p=.02) and typical children (p=.01). There were no significant differences between groups (p=.39). However, explicit motor learning was only observed in typical children (p=.01) not children with ASD (p=.40). There was a significant difference between groups for explicit learning (p=.01).

DISCUSSION: The results of our study showed that implicit motor learning is not affected in children with ASD. Implications for implicit and explicit/learning are applied to the CO-OP approach of motor learning with children with ASD.

Kopp S, Beckung E, Gillberg C. Developmental coordination disorder and other motor control problems in girls with autism spectrum disorder and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Res Dev Disabil. 2010 Mar-Apr;31(2):350-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2009.09.017. Epub 2009 Nov 11. PubMed PMID: 19910158.

Examine the rate, predictors, and effect on daily life skills of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and other motor control difficulties in school age girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in preschool age girls with ASD referred to a neuropsychiatric clinic, and in a community sample of school age girls. The girls (131 in total) were examined with standardised test of motor function and parent interviews and questionnaires. The school girls were compared with 57 age-and IQ-matched girls from the community. DCD was diagnosed in 25% of clinic school girls with ASD, in 32% of those with ADHD, and in 80% of the clinic preschool girls with ASD. Parents reported more motor problems in the school age clinic group. Agreement between a brief motor screening test and a full comprehensive motor examination was moderate to good in the clinic group. Young age, autistic symptomatology, and low performance IQ predicted more motor coordination problems. Motor coordination problems were related to lower ability in daily life skills even when the effect of PIQ was controlled for. A large minority of school girls with ASD and/or ADHD, and a majority of preschool girls with ASD meet full diagnostic criteria for DCD. Their motor problems contribute to reduced activity in daily life even when the effects of IQ have been partialled out.