Motor and Praxis Differences in Individuals with ASD: Relationship to Sensory and Social Features

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What is the value of addressing motor and praxis challenges when sensory and social difficulties feature so strongly in individuals with ASD?

It turns out these factors may be more related than they appear.

Motor and Praxis Differences

Both motor and praxis differences have been widely established in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to those without ASD.1 For example, delayed gross and fine motor skills, postural control deficits, gait differences, different reach-and-grasp patterns, inefficient motor planning, and imitation difficulties are widespread. In response, some researchers assert that these differences may be a fundamental part of ASD.2, 3

Sensory-Motor Link

A significant body of research establishes the connection between sensory processing and integration with praxis and motor abilities in individuals with ASD.1 Inefficient use of vision and proprioception particularly impact motor actions in this population. Notably, individuals with ASD often describe sensory and motor differences as being central factors in their own experiences,4, 5 a crucial consumer perspective to be heeded.

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Motor-Social Link

Research has also found that motor and praxis deficits are associated with social challenges.1 Motor challenges can compromise use of nonverbal communication, body space, and controlled force in social interactions as well as being a source of misunderstanding and missed opportunities. Furthermore, given the impact of motor functioning on play and other daily life activities, additional opportunities for social interaction and learning may also be compromised.

It is important to note that intervention that addresses motor abilities has been found to have a positive impact on social outcomes for individuals with ASD.6, 7

Holistic Intervention

The interrelatedness of multiple factors for individuals with ASD reminds us that while addressing the motor system is important, doing so in an integrated manner is also essential to holistically address the needs of our clients.8

Addressing motor performance for individuals with ASD is actually more complex and multifaceted than it may first appear to be.9

To learn more about an integration strategy for your clients with ASD, check out the following MedBridge courses:

  1. Spitzer, S. L., & Bodison, S. C. (2018). Motor and praxis differences in individuals with ASD. In R. Watling and S. L. Spitzer (Eds.), Autism across the lifespan: A comprehensive occupational therapy approach (4th Ed., pp. 35–58). Bethesda, MD: AOTA press.
  2. Dziuk, M. A., Larson, J. C., Apostu, A., Mahone, E. M., Denckla, M. B., & Mostofsky, S. H. (2007). Dyspraxia in autism: Association with motor, social, and communicative deficits. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 49, 734–739.
  3. Fournier, K. A., Hass, C. J., Naik, S. K., Lodha, N., & Cauraugh, J. H. (2010). Motor coordination in autism spectrum disorders: A synthesis and meta-analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1227–1240.
  4. Kotler, P. D. & Koenig, K. P. (2012, February 6). Authentic partnerships with adults with autism: Shifting the focus to strengths. OT Practice, pp. 6–9.
  5. Robledo, J., Donnellan, A. M., & Strandt-Conroy, K. (2012). An exploration of sensory and movement differences from the perspective of individuals with autism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6, 107.
  6. Bremer, E. & Lloyd, M. (2016). School-based fundamental-motor-skill intervention for children with autism-like characteristics: An exploratory study. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 33, 66–88.
  7. Lee, K., Lambert, H., Wittich, W., Kehayia, E., & Park, M. (2016). The use of movement-based interventions with children diagnosed with autism for psychosocial outcomes—A scoping review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 24, 52–67.
  8. Watling, R. & Spitzer, S. L. (2018). Establishing comprehensive and individually relevant occupational therapy practice with individuals with ASD. In R. Watling and S. L. Spitzer (Eds), Autism across the lifespan: A comprehensive occupational therapy approach (4th Ed., pp. xxiii–xxxv). Bethesda, MD: AOTA press.
  9. May-Benson, T. A. (2018). Improving motor skills and praxis for increased participation for individuals with ASD. In R. Watling and S. L. Spitzer (Eds.), Autism across the lifespan: A comprehensive occupational therapy approach (4th Ed., pp. 305–318). Bethesda, MD: AOTA press.