Tag Archives: autism motor skills

Autism Tied to Increased Connectivity in Brain Networks

Autism tied to increased connectivity in the ‘mirror’ and ‘theory of mind’ neuronal systems of the brain, both of which are integral to imitating, and understanding other’s perspectives. Clearly, these researchers are onto something:

– Dr. John Carosso

Adolescents with autism spectrum disorder show atypically increased functional connectivity involving the mentalizing and mirror neuron brain networks, according to a study published online April 16 in JAMA Psychiatry.

FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show atypically increased functional connectivity involving the mentalizing and mirror neuron brain networks, according to a study published online April 16 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Inna Fishman, Ph.D., from San Diego State University, and colleagues used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain networks in 25 adolescents with ASD (aged 11 to 18 years) and 25 typically developing adolescents. Participants were matched for age, handedness, and nonverbal IQ.

The researchers found that participants with ASD showed a mixed pattern of both over- and underconnectivity in the theory of mind (ToM) network, which is associated with greater social impairment, compared to the controls. This increased connectivity was seen primarily between the regions of the mirror neuron system (MNS) and ToM. The connectivity increase was correlated with sociocommunicative measures, suggesting that excessive ToM-MNS cross talk might be associated with social impairment. A subset of the 15 participants with ASD with the most severe symptomology showed exclusive overconnectivity effects in both ToM and MNS networks, which were also associated with greater social dysfunction compared to a tightly matched subset of 15 typically developing controls.

“This excess ToM-MNS connectivity may reflect immature or aberrant developmental processes in two brain networks involved in understanding of others, a domain of impairment in ASD,” the authors write.

Assessing gross-motor skills during an autism-evaluation is vital.

An Oregon State University researcher has found a relationship between motor skill deficiencies and the severity of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in very young children.

The findings, believed to the be the first to show a direct relationship between motor skills and autism severity, indicate that development of fine and gross motor skills should be included in treatment plans for young children with autism, said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“Recognizing those deficits really early gives us more time to help children catch up to their peers in regards to motor skill,” said MacDonald, who is an expert on the movement skills of children with autism.

The research was based on a study of the development and motor skills of 159 children ages 12 months to 33 months old, including 110 children with an autism diagnosis. Results were published in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.

The motor skill deficiencies among the children with autism were not related to intellectual ability, MacDonald said. She found that the children with autism were nearly a year behind their typical peers in fine motor skills, such as holding a spoon or grasping a small toy. They also were about six months behind in their gross motor skills, including activities like running and jumping.

“It’s not that big a deal if we’re talking about older kids, but for kids between 1 and 3 years old, those are substantial deficits, almost one-third of their life,” MacDonald said. “At that age, they’re like little sponges – we can teach them motor skills.”

Most autism treatment plans for young children focus on social communication because the disability has such a significant effect in that area. Research has shown that successful social communication interventions can improve IQ, language, play skills and more for children with autism.

Incorporating fine and gross motor skill development into early interventions could provide a similar boost, MacDonald said. She also recommends that parents consider adaptive physical education programs, which are designed around a child’s abilities and needs.

MacDonald said she hopes the new research will help build awareness about the importance of motor skill development and the need to include adapted physical education and physical and occupational therapy in treatment plans. Future research will look at different types of motor skill interventions to see if there are some that work better than others, she said.