July 8, 2009

Autism, poor visual motor skills linked

Children with autism may rely less than normally developing children on visual cues, U.S. researchers say.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, suggests interventions to enhance visual-motor associations in children with autism as they learn new skills may also improve social skills.

If the way their brain is wired is not allowing them to rely as much as typically developing children on external visual cues to guide behavior, they may have difficulty learning how to interact with other people and interpret the nature of other people's actions, Dr. Reza Shadmehr of Baltimore's John Hopkins University School of Medicine, the senior study author, said in a statement.

The researchers watched children learn to control a novel tool. They found the 13 normally developing children depended more on visual cues than the 14 children with autism, who relied more on proprioception -- often called the sixth sense -- an internal neurological gauge of body position related to balance and agility.

The researchers also found the greater the reliance on proprioception, the greater the child's impairment and they suggest intervening to improve the visual-motor connection could have a significant impact.

If done early enough, this could help to improve development of motor, social and communicative skills in children with autism, said Dr. Stewart Mostofsky of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, who was a co-author.