Can Motor Problems Offer Clues About Autism?
Siblings of autistic children have been shown to develop motor complexities by 6 months of age on average, irrespective of whether they are autistic or not.
However, at the age of 18 months, only those who have been diagnosed with autism continue to display symptoms of motor difficulties, such as an inability to keep track of eye movements.
Researchers showcased their yet-to-be-published findings at the 2017 International Meeting for Autism Research in San Francisco, California.
It has been shown that autistic babies display signs of trouble with eye focus, keeping their heads lagging behind their bodies when they sit up. Researchers are focussing on a different aspect in a new study.
The researchers are trying to find out if motor troubles are present in younger siblings of autistic kids. During the course of the study, it has also been observed that baby siblings have a 20 times higher average risk of being diagnosed with autism.
Researchers used a standard measurement scale and assessed the motor skills of babies. As many as 161 babies in the age bracket of 6, 10, 14, 18 and 24 months were included.
Additionally, the researchers completed assessments of 57 babies whose siblings were non-autistic.
It was observed that at the age of 6 months, baby sibs show signs of trouble with their sitting positions. Further, the babies were made to take a test of abilities.
In these tests, they had to manipulate and throw objects. Baby sibs scored lower than the controls on average.
“It remains a weakness through the second birthday,” says lead investigator Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, who presented the work.
The Catchy Prize
After the age of 6 months, all baby sib’s showcased signs of trouble with their tracking movements, says Landa.
For instance, the babies might not be in a position to have their eyes follow a moving object. “They’re not doing that with the refined ability that is seen in low-risk babies,” Landa says.
Interestingly, it was found that baby sibs who are 18 months old and younger had motor difficulties, but not necessarily autism.
On the other hand, baby sibs who are later diagnosed with being autistic continue having trouble with tasks such as eye tracking.
With further validations, these features could end up serving as a marker before the condition can be behaviourally diagnosed.
“If you have a motor problem, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have autism,” Landa says.
“It’s just that babies who do have autism almost always have these motor problems at 6 months, and it’s affecting multiple aspects of the developing system.”
Landa further adds that baby sibs at times continue to have trouble doing some tasks; for instance, playing with toys, which also suggests that not every problem can be related and/or is specific to autism.