Autistic toddlers and preschoolers with better motor abilities also have a higher level of communication and social skills, say researchers at Oregon State University. The study was published by on September 11, 2013, in the journal “Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
The researchers tested 233 autistic children ages 14 to 49 months. They say that the study is a part of growing evidence of the importance of the link between motor skill deficits and autism. Scientists say that the development of motor skills is vital for autistic children and can help them to develop better social skills.
“Even at this early age, we are already seeing motor skills mapping on to their social and communicative skills,” said Megan MacDonald, the lead author of the study. “Motor skills are embedded in everything we do, and for too long they have been studied separately from social and communication skills in children with autism.” MacDonald is an expert in the motor skills of autistic children and an assistant professor at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.
MacDonald said that one study revealed that autistic 12 year-olds had the physical performance levels of 6 year-old typical children. “So they do have some motor skills, and they kind of sneak through the system,” she said. “But we have to wonder about the social implications of a 12-year-old who is running like a much younger child. So that quality piece is missing, and the motor skill deficit gets bigger as they age.”
In MacDonald’s study, children with higher motor skills performed better at “daily living skills” such as:
- Requesting things from their parents
“We can teach motor skills and intervene at young ages,” MacDonald said. “Motor skills and autism have been separated for too long. This gives us another avenue to consider for early interventions.”
Experts in adaptive physical education do run some programs that focus on developing motor and communication skills. MacDonald says that because “autism spectrum disorder is a disability that impacts social skills so dramatically, the motor skill deficit tends to be pushed aside.”
“We don’t quite understand how this link works, but we know it’s there,” MacDonald said. “We know that those children can sit up, walk, play and run seem to also have better communication skills."