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Better Motor Skills Boosts Social Skills in Autistic Children

Update Date: Sep 11, 2013 03:29 PM EDT

Autistic children with better motor skills are also better at socializing and communicating, according to a new study.

Researchers said the latest findings support previous studies that linked autism with motor skill deficits.

The latest study involved 233 children between the ages of 14 to 49 months diagnosed with autism.

Researchers found that children who scored higher for motor skills were also better at "daily living skills" like talking, playing, walking and asking for things from their parent.

"Even at this early age, we are already seeing motor skills mapping on to their social and communicative skills," Lead author Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, said in a news release. "Motor skills are embedded in everything we do, and for too long they have been studied separately from social and communication skills in children with autism."

Researchers said that developing motor skills is very important for children with autism because it can lead to better social skills. For instance, MacDonald said that in one study, 12-year-olds with autism performed physically at the same level as 6-year-olds.

"So they do have some motor skills, and they kind of sneak through the system," she said. "But we have to wonder about the social implications of a 12-year-old who is running like a much younger child. So that quality piece is missing, and the motor skill deficit gets bigger as they age."

Given the latest findings, MacDonald said that autistic children could be taught motor skills at young ages.

"Motor skills and autism have been separated for too long. This gives us another avenue to consider for early interventions," MacDonald explained, adding that motor deficits have generally been pushed aside because autism affects social skills so dramatically.

"We don't quite understand how this link works, but we know it's there," she said. "We know that those children can sit up, walk, play and run seem to also have better communication skills.

The findings are published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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