a boy jumping

Young children with autism lag in gross motor skills like jumping.

Most people recognize the need for early treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), especially for social and communication skills, but what about motor skills? Research from Oregon State University (OSU) has found a correlation between motor skill deficiencies and autism severity in young children. The findings indicate a need for motor skill development in treatment plans for children with autism. This may be the first study to link motor skills and autism severity.

For the study, the researchers evaluated 159 children aged 12 months to 33 months; 110 children had an autism diagnosis.

Children with autism lag behind their peers in both gross and fine motor skills. In fine motor skills (holding or grasping small objects), the children with autism were approximately a year behind their peers. In gross motor skills (running or jumping), the children with autism were about six months behind. Motor skill deficiencies were not related to intellectual ability.

Typical treatment plans for children with autism focus on social communication; research shows that interventions for language, IQ, and play skills are often successful. The study’s author, Megan MacDonald, suggests that developing gross and fine motor skills should be a part of treatment plans for young children with ASD. MacDonald states that this research also indicates that there is a need for adapted physical education and physical therapy plans for children with ASD.

“Recognizing those deficits really early gives us more time to help children catch up to their peers in regards to motor skill … At that age, they’re like little sponges—we can teach them motor skills,” stated MacDonald, author and assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

This research is published in the journal Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.

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