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09-10-2012 | Psychology | Article

Motor and communication skills linked in infants at risk for autism


Free abstract

medwireNews: Study findings suggest that siblings of children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) who exhibit early delay in motor skill development often experience communication difficulty in early childhood.

Furthermore, such motor delay is more likely in siblings of children with ASDs (AU sibs) than non-AU sibs, say the authors.

In the study, published in Infant Behavior and Development, significantly more AU sibs exhibited noticeable motor delay in their first 6 months of life than non-AU sibs.

And by 18 months of age, communication delay was noticed in up to 73% of the AU sibs who presented with early motor delay.

"These motor delays may affect early object exploration skills and learning as well as social bids involving object sharing with caregivers," hypothesize Rebecca Landa (Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA) and colleagues.

They therefore advise that doctors should incorporate the evaluation of motor and communication skills into the routine clinical checkups of AU sibs that are carried out during infancy and early childhood.

The findings show that at 3 months of age, motor delay, identified using the Alberta Infant Motor Scale, was present in 77.8% and 33.3% of 24 AU and 24 non-AU sibs, respectively.

By 6 months of age, an intergroup difference in motor delay rates remained evident, at respective rates of 50.0% and 8.3% among AU and non-AU sibs.

Overall, 50% of the AU sibs who had motor delay at 3 months and 38% of those who had motor delay at 6 months exhibited communication delay at 18 months.

This, say Landa et al, indicates that not all AU sibs are at risk for early motor and future communication delay.

They surmise that "motor delay may be a feature of ASD from early on and may present in infants who have a greater genetic risk for ASD."

The authors highlight that several study design flaws limit the certainty with which firm conclusions can be made.

For example, less than 50 children were included in the study, motor development was not assessed beyond 6 months of age, and communication skills were not evaluated into late childhood.

Landa and co-authors therefore conclude that "future research involving larger sample sizes is required to evaluate the long-term outcomes and connections between early motor and later social communication impairments in infants at risk for ASDs."

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Lauretta Ihonor, medwireNews reporter

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