Very few highly athletic kids are found in the Aspergers population. They may display some exquisitely developed skills such as mastery of a musical instrument, but rarely do they display general gross motor precocity. They are often awkward in tasks requiring balance and coordination. They are often late to handle a pencil comfortably, catch a ball, ride a bike, or use playground equipment effectively.
They often display hypotonia, a generalized muscular weakness that affects posture, movement, strength, and coordination. Kids with Aspergers also may display tactile defensiveness; in other words, they may avoid touch, warmth, and hugs. For these reasons, occupational and physical therapies are among the very earliest interventions that should be employed along with speech/language therapy, the most frequently employed early intervention.
Teitelbaum and colleagues (2004) at the University of Florida have identified motor measures of the early developing smile, and postural and other motor movements that they feel demonstrate the possibility of identifying Aspergers in infancy. Teitelbaum’s group used a notation system for movements (called the Eshkol-Wachman movement notation) in the attempt to find diagnostic clues about Aspergers early in life. They present evidence that abnormal movement patterns can be detected in Aspergers in infancy. This finding suggests that Aspergers can be diagnosed very early, independent of the presence of language.
As shown by the group in earlier studies, almost all of the movement disturbances in autism can be interpreted as infantile reflexes “gone astray.” In other words, some reflexes are not inhibited at the appropriate age in development, whereas others fail to appear when they should. This phenomenon appears to apply to Aspergers, as well. Based on preliminary results, a simple test using one such reflex is proposed for the early detection of a subgroup of kids with Aspergers. What moms and dads often see, however, are late-developing, immature, and awkward visual-motor skills.
Fine motor (holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, tying shoes) and gross motor (walking, running, athletic coordination) developmental milestones are often more difficult for kids with Aspergers to attain in comparison to their neuro-typical peers. The difficulties that Aspergers kids face in regard to motor skills development can lead to frustration, low self-esteem, and apprehension toward learning a new task.
Children with Aspergers may struggle academically and socially as a result of difficulties in mastering motor skills. In school, students who lack the dexterity to write legibly and swiftly with a pencil can easily fall behind in completing assignments. Social interactions that involve activities such as competitive sports may result in an Aspergers youngster being teased or mocked by peers, as a clumsy gait or awkward hand-eye coordination is detrimental to overall physical ability. Tasks that are simple for children with typical motor development, such as buttoning a shirt or zipping a coat, can be quite challenging for those who lag behind in motor functioning. The most effective way of minimizing the issues related to fine/gross motor skills and Aspergers is for a child to participate in an occupational therapy program, which is offered as a free service for eligible public school students.
Occupational Therapy and Motor Skills Exercises—
Occupational therapists are able to help kids with Aspergers improve their fine and gross motor development through a variety of exercises. Mom and dads can also work with their kids on these techniques in the home environment. The earlier an Aspergers youngster begins to receive assistance in strengthening fine motor skills and gross motor skills, the more likely that school, social, and daily life experiences will be easier to navigate.
Some methods that therapists use when promoting motor development in children with Aspergers traits are:
- Developing hand-eye coordination by practicing athletic skills such as catching, throwing, or kicking balls
- Increasing arm and leg coordination with activities such as swimming and moving to music
- Offering hands-on assistance when practicing tasks such as buttoning, holding utensils, and tying laces
- Providing children with ample opportunity to work on physical coordination and balance through supervised use of playground equipment
- Teaching remedial exercises that are designed to encourage neat handwriting and appropriate pencil grasp
Though kids with Aspergers may always have issues of some degree with fine and gross motor functioning, consistent therapeutic techniques can greatly enhance a child's physical potential. Motor skills development in children with Aspergers can improve over time when proper interventions are taken.
What Parents and Teachers Can Do To Help—
Gross motor skills are typically delayed in young children with Aspergers. Parents and teachers should administer some form of periodic testing to assess the challenges the student is facing in gross motor development. This will enable the teacher to plan effective gross motor goals. The focus for the teacher should be to bring the Aspergers child to a higher level of participation.
Young children love to run, jump, skip, climb, and ride a tricycle. Bringing Aspergers students to a level of participation in the activities young children typically engage in increases the probability that the student will interact socially with his typical peers. Social interaction through play is such a challenge for children with Aspergers, and removing the barriers of gross motor delays increases the probability that the child will interact well with his peers.
Facilitate the development of gross motor skills in young children with Aspergers with play. Since peer acceptance during social and play situations can be a challenge anyway, children with Aspergers can really benefit from developing better gross motor skills on the playground. Play opportunities on the playground facilitate gross motor as well as social interaction.
Here are some examples:
- "Big toy" climbing stations are great fun for children, and many skills are developed during play on this popular playground apparatus.
- A basketball goal set up for young children with a lowered basket is another great playground gross motor activity for children with Aspergers.
- A swinging bridge helps strengthen walking skills, while slide ladders provide a fun way to meet climbing goals.
- Circle soccer can be played with the whole group. Make a big circle and throw a soccer ball into the circle. The children will kick the ball around with the goal being to keep the ball in the circle. It's a fun way to practice kicking skills with a game.
- Play hopscotch with some colorful sidewalk chalk and a bean bag. Have the child bend over with one leg up to pick up the bean bag.
- Skipping and galloping races are also great playground gross motor activities.
- Swings are great too. Teach Aspergers children to "pump" their own swings, building up leg muscles in the process.
When planning gross motor goals for kids with Aspergers, parents and teachers should plan to address the overall clumsiness that is typically seen with a variety of activities that improve overall gross motor skills. “Play” is the best way to accomplish these goals.