OSU Releases Autism Study

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — Research at Oregon State University says kids with autism who have better motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination, are more likely to have better social skills. 

Researchers are helping with a new study that looks at the relationship among development skills for kids with autism. Lead author Megan MacDonald works at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. Her work, coauthored  by researchers at Cornell Medical College and the University of Michigan, was published in the “Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders” journal on Wednesday.

“We’re taking a look at their (kids with autism) motor skills and their daily living skills and how it relates to their social and communication skills,” said MacDonald. “What we found is there are relationships. Children with better motor skills also have relatively better social communicative skills.”

Currently, OSU is working on seeing if “interventions” can improve motor skills, and see how it relates to other skills.

“We’re bringing in kiddos with autism and without, and we’re looking at how motor affects their overall development,” said OSU Doctoral Student Amanda Tepfer.

Kiley Tyler, also an OSU doctoral student, says the study is a comparison of sorts, between kids with autism and typically developing children – kids who act as the “control” in the study. Tyler says typically developing children develop a multitude of skills at a rate that is expected. During the 30-40 minute motor skill sessions, Tyler says researchers are asking themselves different questions.

“Based on their age, based on their expected pattern of development, what do we see? What differences? What similarities do we see between typically developing children and children with autism?” said Tyler.

Motor skills, defined by researchers as movement that requires different skills, can be a variety of actions.

“Riding the bike, going down the slide, going through obstacle courses that consist of jumping, swinging, and grasping and writing,” are some examples Tyler listed.

Researchers say they are comparing kids with autism with those who have not been diagnosed with a disability or disease to see how physical activity could change their social behavior.

“For children with autism, we know that one of the deficits that they have are the ability to socialize,” said MacDonald, an Assistant Professor with the Movement Studies in Disability Program at OSU.

OSU offers free eight-week sessions for kids with autism and for typically developing children.

“We have the ability to really change those skills early in a child’s life with practice and intervention,” MacDonald said.

Researchers at OSU call it an intervention: a physical education class teaching kids motor skills.

“When London and I were playing with the ball and giving and taking and that imagination play, you know, are they doing those things? And if not, can we help them learn those skills? So they can play more with their peers,” said Tepfer.

“We’re finding that children or adolescents that lack those primary skills are less physically active because either they’re cognisant of not being as competent as their peers and so they don’t want to, or they lack those skills and so they feel as though they can’t participate in physical activity,” Tepfer said. “And so we’re just trying to build that repertoire for them to be able to interact and be more physically active.”

Anyone who is interested in learning more about OSU’s program can contact Megan MacDonald by clicking here. The courses are open-enrollment, so kids with autism and typically developing children are welcome to join.

“There are so many opportunities and interventions and programs that are really moving us forward, and children are doing great,” MacDonald said. “They’re having a great outcome.”

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