Motor Developmental Difficulties in Autistic Children | Motor Disabilities due to Autism

By Prapoorna M

Last Updated: November 27, 2021

Among the most frequent disorders observed in children, Autism takes a major place. Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. When motor dysfunction in Autistic children is discussed, the topic is mostly focused on stereotyped and repetitive movements such as hand flapping or body rocking. Along with them, nonfunctional arm wave and awkward hand-to-ear posture are also observed among infants with ASD as early as 12 months.
The repetitive motor movements and the commonly observed behaviors are the usual diagnostic criteria for ASD in children. But apart from them, there are many other motor problems reported by parents and found by clinicians such as delays of motor milestones in early development and inadequate fine and gross motor skills of the children.

What are Motor Skills?

Motor skills are the movements and actions of the muscles in our body. Though our movements tend to look simple, they take a lot of skill. A motor skill is a learned ability to cause a predetermined movement outcome with maximum certainty. There are two types of motor skills, namely gross and fine motor skills.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills can be understood as large movements made using arms, hands, legs, feet or entire body, such as crawling, walking, running, throwing a ball, and jumping, etc.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills can be understood as smaller actions made using fingers, toes, lips, tongue etc., such as picking things, writing, drawing, tasting etc.

As Autism is a neurological condition and doesn’t have any specified physical characteristics, this concept of motor development in Autistic children has been in focus. But the differences in brain functioning in Autistic children rather than the normal ones are not easy to detect. Autistic children have varying degrees of difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. Studies say that kids with Autism could be six months behind in gross motor skills and a year behind in fine motor skills when compared with normal children of their age. These difficulties exist due to the neurological conditions and their challenges with sensory processing. These motor difficulties are not same in all the Autistic children.
While some face difficulty with gross motor skills, some face more pronounced difficulty with fine motor skills and some have difficulty facing both the problems. Tests showed that 83 percent of children with Autism spectrum disorder were below average in motor skills.

Child undergoing Occupational therapy
Child undergoing Occupational therapy

Difficulties of children with ASD

Actually, there had been confusion in the assessment of the reason for Motor impairments of Autistic children, whether it is due to ASD or if it runs in the families. The researchers of Washington University school of Medicine in St.Louis have found that kids with Autism spectrum disorders exhibit significantly more impairment in the motor related areas than their siblings who don’t have the disorder. These motor-related problems are common in Autism children and they contribute to social problems during childhood because kids with Autism can’t do things that other kids can do.
Kids having difficulty with these motor skills might have trouble even with simple things like brushing their teeth, pulling a zip or buttoning their shirts. Such kids need to have an aid to help them even at school. Having difficulty with little things makes everything tough for them and has a lot of impact on their whole well-being. The children who realize their inefficiency may develop low self-esteem, so even if they have delays only in the motor skills, there is a lot of impact on their well-being into adulthood, says a Hilton, assistant professor in occupational therapy and an instructor in psychiatry.

OT Intervention Helps

The daily challenges faced by children with Autism Spectrum disorder relate to the areas of social interaction, communication, sensory processing and cognitive difficulties, motor planning, and coordination skills. The lower motor proficiency scores in children with an Autism Spectrum disorder, the greater will be the degree of social impairment and severity of the order. It is really necessary to make them work with an occupational therapist to improve in these areas. Occupational therapists are trained to determine why there is a delay in fine motor skills. It can be due to motor planning, posture and low tone, visual motor integration skills, or sensory processing difficulties. Occupational therapists also offer interventions addressing individual’s fine motor skills through activities targeting all these skill areas. Working on these areas, improves the fine motor skills including dressing, self-care, grooming, and feeding tasks, along with writing and drawing.

Special Treatment Plans

After a professional identifies a child having difficulties with motor skills development, a treatment plan is developed accordingly, to meet their needs. Parents should be familiar with the plan designed for their kids and should take an active role in assisting them with those therapies, intended for specific development plan.

Strategies that Help

A Therapist and a child in occupational therapy session
A Therapist and a child in occupational therapy session

The therapy sessions help your child to improve their skills. In order to develop and strengthen your child’s fine motor ability, occupational therapists develop specific activities and strategies. Parents at home can also make this possible by making the Autistic kids do some activities like the following.

  • Making the child play with slime or a similar resistive structure, and pull apart and squeeze it
  • Blasting the bubbles on a bubble wrap
  • Playing with a squeeze toy
  • Peeling stickers
  • Using a hole punch
  • Cut out simple shapes or along a line
  • Putting coins in a piggy bank box
  • Looking for hidden objects in play dough, putty or clay
  • Making them use broken crayons to practice gripping
  • Building letters using wikki stick or pipe cleaners
  • Making the child write in sand, dirt or other tactile material
  • Lacing beads/blocks of various sizes onto strip or pipe cleaners
  • Using a squeeze bottle to water the plants
  • Making to pull out the hidden objects like some marbles from sand
  • Making the child to put different materials in different containers
  • Use magnet tiles or construction blocks to pull apart and piece together
  • Use clothespins or tongs to pick up small manipulatives to sort
  • Making them pull Velcro strips using them with some simple puzzles

Such sort of activities involving the motor skills helps them to improve in specific areas. It is necessary to involve them in play activities and to make them try some what difficult activities. We at Wellness hub work to facilitate the kids with Autism to meet their basic needs. We help in overcoming their problems with social interaction, communication, and behavioral challenges. Book an appointment to meet our group of experienced professionals, today.