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Poor Motor Skills Tied to Difficulty in Social Interactions for Autistic Children

Update Date: Jul 01, 2013 02:36 PM EDT

Children with an autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty building social relationships due to the lack of communication development. Since autism can range from being mild to severe, children with a mild form of the disorder can have meaningful social interactions and relationships. Even though some autistic children can communicate, researchers looked into another factor that could be responsible for the lack of social awareness. In a new study, researchers looked at the quality and development of motor skills in autistic children and found that poor motor skills led to increased social awkwardness.

The researchers of the study, headed by Megan MacDonald, an associate professor from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University recruited 35 children who were diagnosed with a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. The children were between the ages of six and 15 and all attended typical classrooms with classmates that did not have the disorder.

"So much of the focus on autism has been on developing social skills, and that is very crucial," MacDonald said according to a press release. "Yet we also know there is a link between motor skills and autism, and how deficits in these physical skills play into this larger picture is not clearly understood."

The researchers focused on two main types of motor control. The first type was called "object-control," which included motor precision when it came to handling objects. Catching and throwing would fall under this category. The second type was called "locomotion," which focused on how the children walked and ran. The researchers found that specifically for object-control motor skills, children who scored lower on these skills have severe social and communication complications.

"Something which seems as simple as learning to ride a bike can be crucial for a child with autism," MacDonald said. "Being able to ride a bike means more independence and autonomy. They can ride to the corner store or ride to a friend's house. Those kind of small victories are huge."

The researchers reasoned that children and teenagers who cannot perform these skills well enough might be discouraged from joining group events, such as sport outings, that require one to catch or throw. By not joining friends or classmates in these activities, the individual's social interactions become jeopardized. The researchers stated that the good news is that motor skills can be taught.

"We have programs and interventions that we know work, and have measurable impact on motor skill development," MacDonald said. "We need to make sure we identify the issue and get a child help as early as possible."

The findings were published in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly

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