Aspergers Children and Motor Skills Development

There is significant data to suggest that many kids with Aspergers  and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) frequently show a very exaggerated response to loud noises such as thunder or unexpected sounds. In addition, your youngster may show hyper-responsiveness to unexpected experiences in general, because a core attribute of Aspergers and HFA is sensory-motor dysfunction. Motor clumsiness is often significant.

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.


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Anonymous said...

My 2 yr old recently used an IPad in Developmental Vision Therapy. He did really well with it and she said it would help his hand eye coordination and depth perception. Plus he has a profound head tilt and when things are positioned on a certain side he corrects the tils and his head is straight. We really noticed this when he was using the IPad. I would love to get him one for Christmas to use at home but we don't have any money. My stepbrothers in the past have gotten him things that are good for his therapy. I would like to email them and ask for a tablet like the IPad but I was wondering if anyone has used the Kindle or a new product I saw on line called the Nabi tablet that is geared for kids? I know he is to young to use any of these on his own so we would be playing with him. I would appreciate any suggestions.

Anonymous said...

My 7 yr old son with Aspergers has absoloutely NO interest in learning to ride a bicycle. Should I be concerned? I see the neighborhood kids riding around all the time and think that maybe my son is missing out on a primary life skill!! Any other Aspie parents struggling with this issue?

Anonymous said...

Loud noises YES, clumsiness NO!!

Anonymous said...

My son was afraid of toilets flushing, velcro pulling and coughing sounds when he was an infant/toddler. Now its not so bad but he still responds to sounds differently than most.

Anonymous said...

bee's summers are hell...lol..but he has fallen off everything on purpose and i see him so it...he needs to be a gymnast..he rounds himself out so he doesn't get hurt..for ex....steps...bike...at FULL run, high places.

Anonymous said...

My son is 10, has Aspergers and still doesn't ride a bike. He shows no interest and has trouble with the balance/coordination. We've tried all sorts from incentives to tandem bikes. The other day we were out with my 7 year old who can ride. I suggested my 10 yr old just sit on his brother's bike as he was tired. We were on a gentle slope so suggested he go down the slope using his feet on the ground like a balance bike. He then took his feet off the ground and balanced a short distance. We are not there yet but it is a start. He has also said he will try a 3 wheeled kmx go kart. As with so many things you can't force it but try various things when the mood and the time is right.

Unknown said...

It may be later on but I just have to know can us aspies develop the abilities to be great athletes? I've never been the super genius that aspergers kids are said to be and I love sports and want so badly to improve. Any suggestions?

soonergary said...

I have aspergers, never been great at athletic stuff, but know I could be if I really wanted to be, so I say, yes, it can happen, if you really want it. Just practice, as much as you can at your favorite sport, and this part is easier said than done, but don't give up on it, and you can be great. :) There is nothing we aspies can't do.

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