Brittany Travers, PhD – Slide of the Week

ravers Slide of the Week

Title: IQ and Sensory Symptom Severity Best Predict Motor Ability in Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder

Legend: The goal of this study was to determine which combination of behavioral characteristics (including having/ not having a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder [ASD]) best predicted motor challenges in children 6-10 years of age. We assessed this in a group of children with ASD, a group with typical development, and an intermediate phenotype group (i.e., children with a family history of ASD or a diagnosis of a condition related to ASD). This research was inspired by the discrepancy between how research in motor challenges is typically performed (i.e., compare the average performance of the diagnostic groups) and clinical best practice in treating motor challenges (i.e., assess each child’s behavioral characteristics rather than diagnostic category). Figure (A) shows the different approaches for testing distinctions in motor ability between and across groups, with the bottom approach being most aligned with clinical practice. All three of these approaches were used and compared to each other in this study. Figure (B) shows that sensory symptom severity and IQ were the best predictors of motor challenges among the variables tested. These relations are further depicted in Figure (C), with the colors representing the ASD, intermediate (INT), and typically developing (TD) groups. Follow-up analyses demonstrated that sensory symptom severity and IQ predicted motor challenges above and beyond diagnostic status, suggesting that the individual differences approach was the best. Overall, these results show that children with more severe sensory symptoms and lower IQ scores are the most likely to have motor challenges, regardless of their diagnosis. This finding aligns with current clinical practice and suggests that research should account for variables beyond diagnostic group when investigating motor challenges in children.

Citation: Surgent, O. J., Walczak, M., Zarzycki, O., Ausderau, K., & Travers, B. G. (2020). IQ and sensory features predict motor ability in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-020-04536-x

Abstract: Motor challenges are commonly reported in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Yet, there is substantial heterogeneity in motor ability within ASD, and it is unknown what behavioral characteristics best explain individual differences in motor ability in ASD and related conditions. This observational study examined motor ability as a function of sensory features, attention deficit/hyperactivity symptoms, ASD symptoms, and IQ in 110 children with ASD, typical development, or an intermediate behavioral profile. While motor challenges were more prevalent in the ASD group compared to other groups, sensory symptom severity and IQ across all individuals best predicted motor performance above-and-beyond group status. Therefore, motor challenges may be best characterized by individual variation in sensory features and cognitive abilities rather than diagnostic group.

About the Lab:  The Motor Brain and Development Lab is dedicated to advancing knowledge about motor development, brain development, and independent living skills to promote and enhance quality of life for individuals with and without developmental disorders. Our current projects specialize in examining motor and brain development in individuals on the autism spectrum.

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