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Help for Children on the Autism Spectrum with Poor Motor Coordination

“What tips might you have for an HFA child who is a bit clumsy and has sloppy handwriting?”

Children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) are often physically awkward. Many have stiff, uncoordinated gaits - and struggle in games involving motor skills. Also, they often experience fine-motor deficits that can cause penmanship problems, slow clerical speed, and affect their ability to draw.

Other coordination problems that children on the spectrum may experience include:
  • difficulty moderating the amount of sensory information that their body is constantly sending them, and as a result, they are prone to sensory overload and anxiety
  • fatigue due to so much extra energy being expended while trying to execute physical movements correctly
  • low muscle tone
  • moderate to extreme difficulty performing physical tasks 
  • poor sense of direction 
  • problems with balance 
  • struggling to distinguish left from right

Here are some tips for parents and teachers:

1.  Children on the autism spectrum usually benefit from guidelines drawn on paper that help them control the size and uniformity of the letters they write. This also forces them to take the time to write carefully.

2.  When assigning timed units of work, make sure the youngster's slower writing speed is taken into account.

3.  Refer the youngster for adaptive physical education program if gross motor problems are severe.

4.  Children with HFA and AS may require a highly individualized writing program that entails tracing and copying on paper, coupled with motor-patterning on the blackboard. The teacher guides the youngster's hand repeatedly through the formation of letters and letter connections - and also uses a verbal script. Once the youngster commits the script to memory, he or she can talk himself or herself through letter formations independently.

5.  Involve the youngster in a health & fitness curriculum in physical education, rather than in a competitive sports program.

6.  These “special needs” kids often need more time than their peers to complete exams. Taking exams in the resource room not only offers more time, but would also provide the added structure and teacher redirection these kids need to focus on the task at hand.

7.  Do not push the youngster to participate in competitive sports, because his or her poor motor coordination may only invite frustration and the teasing from peers. Also, the HFA or AS child usually lacks the social understanding of coordinating one's own actions with those of others on a team.


Physical or occupational therapists can work with HFA and AS children to develop and improve their physical skills and strengthen their muscles. Targeted multi-sensory interventions include:
  • Perceptual Motor Training: This involves retraining the child’s body to recognize and prioritize various sources of stimuli and respond accordingly (e.g., he or she may learn how to use certain muscle groups rather than others while walking or grasping things).
  • Sensory Integrative Therapy: This teaches the child how to properly absorb and sort information about sensory experiences (e.g., touch, body position, sound, etc.).

For some HFA and AS kids, poor motor coordination lessens over time. For others, the lack of coordination continues through adolescence and into young adulthood. Though early intervention is better than later intervention, treatment received as an adult can still help lessen the severity of symptoms.

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