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J Autism Dev Disord. 2017 Jan;47(1):155-162. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-2934-y.

Communication Deficits and the Motor System: Exploring Patterns of Associations in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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Athinoula A Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, 02129, USA.
Lurie Center for Autism, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School, Lexington, MA, 02421, USA.
Biostatistics Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, 02129, USA.
Lurie Center for Autism, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School, Lexington, MA, 02421, USA.


Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have notable difficulties in motor, speech and language domains. The connection between motor skills (oral-motor, manual-motor) and speech and language deficits reported in other developmental disorders raises important questions about a potential relationship between motor skills and speech-language deficits in ASD. To this end, we examined data from children with ASD (n = 1781), 2-17 years of age, enrolled in the Autism Speaks-Autism Treatment Network (AS-ATN) registry who completed a multidisciplinary evaluation that included diagnostic, physical, cognitive and behavioral assessments as part of a routine standard of care protocol. After adjusting for age, non-verbal IQ, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) medication use, and muscle tone, separate multiple linear regression analyses revealed significant positive associations of fine motor skills (FM) with both expressive language (EL) and receptive language (RL) skills in an impaired FM subgroup; in contrast, the impaired gross motor (GM) subgroup showed no association with EL but a significant negative association with RL. Similar analyses between motor skills and interpersonal relationships across the sample found both GM skills and FM skills to be associated with social interactions. These results suggest potential differences in the contributions of fine versus gross motor skills to autistic profiles and may provide another lens with which to view communication differences across the autism spectrum for use in treatment interventions.


Autism; Language; Motor deficits; Social interactions

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