cute-boy-face-with-butterflyChildren with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have more trouble with certain motor skills than their peers, reports a new study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The researchers compared children with ASD, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and typically developing children. They found that motor and social deficits in autism and ADHD, in children, manifest in different ways. The study may link the seemingly unconnected autism traits of motor impairments and social deficits.

The researchers tested the motor skills of 200 male and female children aged 8 to 13. The children formed four groups: children with ASD, children with ADHD, children with both ASD and ADHD and typically developing children. The children participated in tasks that revealed their abilities in motor skills, balance, and manual dexterity including. The tasks included throwing and catching a ball and picking up small plastic pegs to place in a peg board.

The children who exhibited difficulty catching were the most likely to have ASD, either alone or with ADHD, compared to the other groups. The children with ASD also demonstrated difficulties with balance. The children with ADHD, either alone or with ASD, performed worse than the other groups in the manual dexterity task. This indicates that although ASD and ADHD may overlap in some ways, their motor impairments are distinct.

This study contributes to mounting evidence that motor impairments are part of ASD. Even though motor impairments do not seem to be linked with other hallmarks of autism, like social deficits, the researchers contend that there is a connection.

“We think that there’s converging lines of evidence, this study being one of them, that really support the idea that there may be a particular impairment in visual-motor integration in children with autism” stated Stewart Mostofsky, director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental and Imaging Research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Skills like catching are based on visual-motor integration, which is an important part of physical movement. Visual-motor integration also helps people imitate the social actions and gestures of others. This study could help researchers reconcile the disparate characteristics of autism spectrum disorder.

This research is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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