Objective: To explore the specificity of impaired praxis and postural knowledge to autism by examining three samples of children, including those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and typically developing (TD) children.
Method: Twenty-four children with ASD, 24 children with ADHD, and 24 TD children, ages 8-13, completed measures assessing basic motor control (the Physical and Neurological Exam for Subtle Signs; PANESS), praxis (performance of skilled gestures to command, with imitation, and tool use) and the ability to recognize correct hand postures necessary to perform skilled gestures (the Postural Knowledge Test; PKT).
Results: Children with ASD performed significantly worse than TD children on all three assessments. In contrast, children with ADHD performed significantly worse than TD controls on PANESS but not on the praxis examination or PKT. Furthermore, children with ASD performed significantly worse than children with ADHD on both the praxis examination and PKT, but not on the PANESS.
Conclusions: Whereas both children with ADHD and children with ASD show impairments in basic motor control, impairments in performance and recognition of skilled motor gestures, consistent with dyspraxia, appear to be specific to autism. The findings suggest that impaired formation of perceptual-motor action models necessary to development of skilled gestures and other goal directed behavior is specific to autism; whereas, impaired basic motor control may be a more generalized finding.