As many of 80 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have motor problems. Although motor issues are not part of autism’s diagnostic criteria, they do play a role in the disorder, possibly contributing to social and communication deficits. A new study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore investigated brain connectivity patterns associated with movement issues in ASD. The study finds that children with severe movement problems have unusually strong connections in the motor cortex, the brain region that governs movement.
The researchers evaluated 43 children with ASD and 80 typically developing children, aged 8 to 12, who were matched for handedness and IQ. The children participated in standardized tests of their gross motor skills. The researchers observed the children’s brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging. They specifically focused on connections in different parts of the motor cortex.
Children with ASD and typically developing children demonstrated different brain connectivity patterns. The control group had stronger connections in the motor cortex’s left hemisphere than the right. The children with ASD demonstrated an opposite pattern, with stronger connections in the right hemisphere’s motor cortex than the left. Children with the strongest connections in the right hemisphere had the most severe motor difficulties.
Lead investigator Steward Mostofsky, director of the Center for Neurodevelopment and Imaging Research, says that the findings suggest “That perhaps some abnormalities in the pattern of motor connectivity contribute to the motor deficits that we see in children with autism.”
The findings suggest that left side of the brain, which is known to manage fine motor skills, may also control gross motor skills. The study demonstrates a link between brain connectivity and movement ability, but it does not indicate whether atypical connectivity causes motor problems or vice versa.
This research was presented at the 2015 International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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