Comparing Motor Skills in Autism Spectrum Individuals With and Without Speech Delay

Autism Res. 2015 Dec;8(6):682-93. doi: 10.1002/aur.1483. Epub 2015 Mar 29.


Movement atypicalities in speed, coordination, posture, and gait have been observed across the autism spectrum (AS) and atypicalities in coordination are more commonly observed in AS individuals without delayed speech (DSM-IV Asperger) than in those with atypical or delayed speech onset. However, few studies have provided quantitative data to support these mostly clinical observations. Here, we compared perceptual and motor performance between 30 typically developing and AS individuals (21 with speech delay and 18 without speech delay) to examine the associations between limb movement control and atypical speech development. Groups were matched for age, intelligence, and sex. The experimental design included: an inspection time task, which measures visual processing speed; the Purdue Pegboard, which measures finger dexterity, bimanual performance, and hand-eye coordination; the Annett Peg Moving Task, which measures unimanual goal-directed arm movement; and a simple reaction time task. We used analysis of covariance to investigate group differences in task performance and linear regression models to explore potential associations between intelligence, language skills, simple reaction time, and visually guided movement performance. AS participants without speech delay performed slower than typical participants in the Purdue Pegboard subtests. AS participants without speech delay showed poorer bimanual coordination than those with speech delay. Visual processing speed was slightly faster in both AS groups than in the typical group. Altogether, these results suggest that AS individuals with and without speech delay differ in visually guided and visually triggered behavior and show that early language skills are associated with slower movement in simple and complex motor tasks.

Keywords: Asperger syndrome; autism spectrum; coordination; motor control; motor skills; speech onset delay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / complications*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / complications*
  • Language Development Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult