Assessment of speech and fine motor coordination in children with autism spectrum disorder

IEEE Access. 2020;8:127535-127545. doi: 10.1109/ACCESS.2020.3007348. Epub 2020 Jul 10.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in communication, which includes a high incidence of speech production errors. We hypothesize that these errors are partly due to underlying deficits in motor coordination and control, which are also manifested in degraded fine motor control of facial expressions and purposeful hand movements. In this pilot study, we computed correlations of acoustic, video, and handwriting time-series derived from five children with ASD and five children with neurotypical development during speech and handwriting tasks. These correlations and eigenvalues derived from the correlations act as a proxy for motor coordination across articulatory, laryngeal, and respiratory speech production systems and for fine motor skills. We utilized features derived from these correlations to discriminate between children with and without ASD. Eigenvalues derived from these correlations highlighted differences in complexity of coordination across speech subsystems and during handwriting, and helped discriminate between the two subject groups. These results suggest differences in coupling within speech production and fine motor skill systems in children with ASD. Our long-term goal is to create a platform assessing motor coordination in children with ASD in order to track progress from speech and motor interventions administered by clinicians.

Keywords: acoustic speech analysis; autism spectrum disorder; biomedical application; fine motor skills; motor coordination.