Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, whose core symptom domains include impaired social communication and narrowed interests and/or repetitive behaviors; in addition, deficits of general cognition, neuromotor function, and movement ability can be observed. This study was designed to examine differences in neuromotor and cognitive functions for a group of young adults with ASD and age-matched controls. It was also of interest to assess whether changes in the intra-individual variability (IIV) of these selected neuromotor and cognitive tasks also occurred. Increased IIV in persons with ASD may reveal important organizational features of their neuromotor system that differ from neurotypical controls. Twenty neurotypical adult individuals (24.3 ± 2.8 years) and twenty adults with a clinician-assigned diagnosis of ASD (21.2 ± 4.4 years) participated in this study. Specific cognitive and motor assessments included Trails Making Tests A&B, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Purdue Pegboard Test, simple reaction time, finger tapping, hand grip strength, balance, and gait. Results revealed that the ASD adults exhibited decreased upper limb strength and slower responses for finger tapping, hand dexterity, reaction times, and gait compared to the non-ASD controls. The general slowing of motor responses for the persons with ASD was also associated with increased within-subject variability during the reaction time, finger tapping, hand grip, and gait assessments compared to neurotypical adults, illustrating that IIV measures may be a useful marker of widespread neuromotor dysfunction for adults with ASD. Overall, these findings are consistent with clinical observations that abnormalities of movement performance and cognitive performance are an associated feature of ASD in young adults.
Keywords: ASD; Gait; Neuromotor; Reaction time; Strength; Variability.