Prevalence of Motor Difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Analysis of a Population-Based Cohort

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Motor impairment is not currently included in the diagnostic criteria or evaluation of autism. This reflects the lack of large-scale studies demonstrating its prominence to advocate for change. We examined the prevalence of motor difficulties at the time of diagnosis in a large sample of children with autism utilizing standardized assessment, and the relationship between motor difficulties, core autism symptomology, and other prominent clinical features. Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales were administered to children from the Western Australian Register for Autism Spectrum Disorders aged ≤6 years (N = 2,084; 81.2% males, 18.8% females). Prevalence of motor difficulties was quantified based on scores from the motor domain of the Vineland and then compared to other domains of functioning within the Vineland (communication, daily living, and socialization), the DSM criteria, intellectual level, age, and gender. Scores on the Vineland indicated that 35.4% of the sample met criteria for motor difficulties (standard score <70), a rate almost as common as intellectual impairment (37.7%). Motor difficulties were reported by diagnosing clinicians in only 1.34% of cases. Motor difficulties were common in those cases meeting diagnostic criteria for impairments in nonverbal behavior and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. The prevalence of motor difficulties also increased with increasing age of diagnosis (P < 0.001). Findings from the present study highlight the need for further consideration of motor difficulties as a distinct specifier within the diagnostic criteria for ASD. Autism Res 2019. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: In this population-based cohort that included 2,084 children with autism aged ≤6 years, over one-third met the criteria for motor difficulties, a rate almost as common as intellectual disability. This study demonstrates that motor difficulties are a prominent feature of the autism phenotype requiring further consideration in both the diagnostic criteria and evaluation of autism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10.1002/aur.2230
Pages (from-to)298-306
Number of pages9
JournalAutism Research
Issue number2
Early online date18 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


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