Research from Megan MacDonald, assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University builds upon her previous work to expand understanding about the intersection of motor and social skills in children with autism. MacDonald had found that delayed motor development is related to social problems among children aged six to 15. The new study revealed that these problems surface even earlier than previously thought.

MacDonald and her team evaluated 233 children aged 14 to 49 months who were diagnosed with autism. They observed that the children who exhibited better motor skills also demonstrated greater acuity in “daily living skills”—talking, playing, walking, and asking parents for things.

Motor skills are requisite for nearly every social activity—even speaking—so closing this developmental gap could have major implications for limiting the social challenges of people on the autism spectrum. MacDonald explained that thinking of motor issues as a separate set of problems, unrelated to other issues, is not helpful; bringing the treatment of various symptoms of autism together could offer alternatives for early interventions.

The findings suggest that early interventions of motor skills with autistic children could be the key to minimizing their social. MacDonald stated, “We can teach motor skills and intervene at young ages. Motor skills and autism have been separated for too long. This gives as a new avenue to consider for early interventions. We don’t quite understand how this link works, but we know it’s there.”

This research is published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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