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Autism Res. 2016 Sep;9(9):993-1001. doi: 10.1002/aur.1587. Epub 2015 Dec 22.

Early gross motor skills predict the subsequent development of language in children with autism spectrum disorder.

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Biostatistics Department, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.
Biostatistics Department, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.
Department of Psychiatry, Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York.



Motor milestones such as the onset of walking are important developmental markers, not only for later motor skills but also for more widespread social-cognitive development. The aim of the current study was to test whether gross motor abilities, specifically the onset of walking, predicted the subsequent rate of language development in a large cohort of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


We ran growth curve models for expressive and receptive language measured at 2, 3, 5 and 9 years in 209 autistic children. Measures of gross motor, visual reception and autism symptoms were collected at the 2 year visit. In Model 1, walking onset was included as a predictor of the slope of language development. Model 2 included a measure of non-verbal IQ and autism symptom severity as covariates. The final model, Model 3, additionally covaried for gross motor ability.


In the first model, parent-reported age of walking onset significantly predicted the subsequent rate of language development although the relationship became non-significant when gross motor skill, non-verbal ability and autism severity scores were included (Models 2 & 3). Gross motor score, however, did remain a significant predictor of both expressive and receptive language development.


Taken together, the model results provide some evidence that early motor abilities in young children with ASD can have longitudinal cross-domain influences, potentially contributing, in part, to the linguistic difficulties that characterise ASD. Autism Res 2016, 9: 993-1001. © 2015 The Authors Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Society for Autism Research.


autism spectrum disorder; language development; walking

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