Autism affects the development of motor skills in infants and toddlers, and the more severe their disorder, the slower their progress in being able to do things such as grasp objects and move around.
That's the finding of a study that assessed more than 150 children between the ages of 12 and 33 months. 110 youngsters in the study had autism, and 49 children didn't have the disorder.
Read: 10 quick autism facts
Six months behind
The children with autism were nearly a year behind typical children in fine motor skills, such as holding a spoon or a small toy.
The youngsters with autism were also about six months behind in gross motor skills, such as running and jumping, according to the study published in the journal Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.
Read: All about autism: The signs and symptoms
The lag in motor skills development among the children with autism was not linked to intellectual ability, noted study author Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.
"It's not that big a deal if we're talking about older kids, but for kids between 1 and 3 years old, those are substantial deficits, almost one-third of their life," she said in a university news release. "At that age, they're like little sponges – we can teach them motor skills," she added.
Read: Beware online autism ‘cures’
Plus, early identification of motor skills problems in autistic children "gives us more time to help children catch up to their peers in regards to motor skills," MacDonald said.
Physical education programmes
The findings show that motor skills development should be included in treatment programmes for autistic children, said MacDonald, an expert on autistic children's movement skills. Treatment plans for autistic children typically focus on social communication.
Parents of children with autism should consider adaptive physical education programmes, which are tailored to a child's abilities and needs, MacDonald said.
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