Relationships Between Gross Motor Ability and Social Function in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. M. Holloway1, E. M. Smith1, A. Cooper2 and F. J. Biasini2, (1)Physical and Occupational Therapy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, (2)Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
Background:  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized primarily by social and communication impairments, however, children with ASD often exhibit additional delays in motor abilities. In children who are typically developing, motor ability is related to social function. However, the extent to which motor ability and social function and participation are related in children with ASD is unknown.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between gross motor ability and social function in young children with ASD. We hypothesize that children with ASD who have higher motor ability will also have higher social function.

Methods:  Children with ASD between the ages of 48-71 were invited to participate in the study. All children were previously diagnosed with ASD by a physician. Diagnosis was confirmed by study investigators using the Childhood Autism Rating Scales 2 (CARS2). The gross motor subscales of the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales 2nd Ed (PDMS-2)were administered to determine each participant’s level of gross motor function. The PDMS-2 yielded scaled scores for each of the 3 subscales (Stationary, Locomotion, and Object Manipulation) and a standard score Gross Motor Quotient (GMQ). Social function was measured using the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS). The SSIS provided an overall standard score for 2 scales: Overall Social Skills and Problem Behaviors.

Results: Six children with ASD have participated in the study thus far. We expect to have data from at least 20 participants at the time of the conference in May. Participants ranged from 49 to 65 months of age (Mean=56.33 mths). Five children scored in the Mild to Moderate category of the CARS2 while the remaining child scored in the Severe category. Four children demonstrated delayed gross motor skills on the PDMS-2 as indicated by a GMQ <1.5 SD below the mean. Spearman’s rank-order correlation revealed a strong, positive relationship between PDMS-2 GMQ and SSIS Overall Social Skills standard scores (rs=0.829, p=.042). Further analysis revealed significant relationships between the Locomotion (rs=0.939, p=.005) and Object Manipulation (rs=0.928, p=.008) subtests of the PDMS-2 with the SSIS Overall Social Skills standard scores. No significant correlations were found for the SSIS Overall Social Skills and PDMS-2 Stationary scales (rs=.679, p=.138) or the SSIS Problem Behaviors and PDMS-2 GMQ (rs=-.200, p=.704).

Conclusions:  The results thus far support previous findings that suggest that gross motor delays are common in children with ASD. In addition, a positive relationship between gross motor ability and social function was found. Areas of gross motor skills that may be related to social skills are Locomotor skills such as jumping, running, and stair climbing and Object Manipulation skills such as throwing, catching, and kicking a ball. Further research is needed to quantify these relationships and pinpoint exact areas of concern regarding motor skills in young children with ASD.