As children grow and develop, they learn important motor skills. Many children and adults with autism experience difficulty with both fine and gross motor skills.
To understand the effect of autism on motor skills, it’s essential to understand autism spectrum disorder.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a brain development disorder that changes how a child interacts and communicates with others. There is no cure for ASD; symptoms show up during childhood, and the disorder continues to affect the person throughout their life.
Scientists still don’t know what causes ASD, but it has been found that the disorder affects the development of motor skills.
Motor Skills and Autism
Medical research shows that children with ASD struggle with posture and coordination. Some find it hard to keep their balance or even run. However, difficulty mastering motor skills is not the main symptom of autism.
Children and adults diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome also have motor skills issues.
Children with autism are usually affected by a range of motor skills issues.
What Types of Motor Skills Issues Do Children With Autism Have?
Children with autism often experience delays in developing their gross and fine motor skills. If your child has ASD, you will notice the following symptoms and issues as they grow:
- They have a low muscle tone.
- They may stumble a lot while walking.
- They may find it hard to write or draw.
- Your child finds it difficult to use a swing or to jump and hop.
- Your child will be less active, and they will display low muscle tone.
- Their hand-eye coordination will be lacking, so they will find it difficult to play catch.
You will want to prompt your child to mimic you to help enhance their motor skills. Teach them to try and copy what you do, such as jogging or hopping. Follow this up with fine motor skills like hand movements and writing.
You must consider your child’s age and choose appropriate movements so they don’t overexert themselves.
At What Age Do Motor Issues Start?
Motor issues are noticeable in infants who are a month old. If your baby is reluctant to move their arms, it may be a symptom of ASD.
Track their development for the following issues:
- Their head may still flop backward when they turn four months old.
- They can’t sit or stand on their own at the age of 14 months.
There are other signs that an infant may have ASD, including the inability to grasp small objects or clap their hands together. If you suspect your infant may have ASD, make an appointment with your doctor to assess them.
How Do Doctors and Researchers Measure Motor Skills?
It is crucial to have your child assessed while they’re still young so they can receive the correct treatment.
The doctor will ask you a series of questions, including the following:
- When did your baby smile for the first time?
- Did your baby make sounds and have different facial expressions at 9 months old?
- Do they have a range of vocal sounds?
When doctors and researchers test motor skills, they assess whether a child can perform basic motor tasks.
For instance, they will check your child’s ability to run, skip, hop, and jump. They will also check if your child can hold a crayon or pencil and if they can transfer an object from one hand to the other.
In recent times, researchers have investigated new methods of testing motor skills issues using the following tools:
- Sensors and infrared motion sensor cameras.
- Gyroscopes and accelerometers to determine the extent of arm and leg movements.
- Pressure sensors inside small mats to establish gait issues.
- Virtual reality technology.
- Electromyography technology for electrical muscle activity tests.
If your child’s assessment results point toward ASD, your doctor will suggest a treatment plan.
How Are Motor Problems Treated?
The treatment plan will include physical and occupational therapy, during which your child will learn motor skills training techniques.
It may also include the following therapies:
- Cognitive therapy
- Kinesthetic therapy
- Sensory integration therapy
Doctors believe that special sports programs and music therapy are also beneficial as ASD treatment options. More research is needed to establish the effectiveness of these therapies.
Some doctors swear by applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, which helps children develop their motor skills using a few defined steps.
These steps include setting long-term goals and dividing them into several short-term goals. This process makes it more attainable for a child to enhance their motor skills.
Research shows that ABA treatments produce mainly positive results, and as such, many healthcare professionals recommend them. Along with ABA therapy, you can use everyday activities to make motor skills learning easier for your child.
Tips for Everyday Activities
Daily activities include taking walks or dancing to your child’s favorite music. You can also try engaging your child in building a puzzle or painting a picture. If your child loves making things with their hands, you can allow them to dig a sand pit or set up a fort.
Since getting dressed is a daily activity, you can help your child do it on their own. If they struggle with buttons, use colored stickers to match them with the buttonholes. Buy your child socks with colored heels and toes to make it easier for them to pair.
If your child finds it difficult to grasp jacket zips, you may want to add key rings to zips to simplify the task.
Make dinner time easier for your child by purchasing cutlery that shows where their fingers need to go. Stickers can also do the trick. If their lack of fine motor skills causes them to make a mess while eating, use a plate guard.
Again, consider your child’s age. If it’s safer for them to use their fingers instead of utensils, allow them to do so.
If your child is diagnosed with ASD, you may be overwhelmed. But rest assured that the techniques mentioned above will allow your child to develop their motor skills at their own pace.
The most important thing to remember is to be patient throughout the process, even when it seems the treatment plan is not working. You will see progress, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.