Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should be thoroughly evaluated for developmental coordination disorder since the two conditions often co-occur, according to a new review by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).
Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects two to seven percent of school-age children. Symptoms include poor balance and coordination and underdeveloped handwriting skills. Kids with DCD tend to have limited or no athletic ability, are more sedentary and prone to obesity. They often struggle with basic childhood activities such as riding bicycles and are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem.
Since many ASD children have traits commonly found in those with DCD, the researchers sought to highlight some of the differences, including working memory ability and their ability to grasp things like pencils properly with their hands. They discovered more differences than similarities.
Researcher Priscila Caçola, an assistant professor of kinesiology, is an expert on DCD. She is the director of UTA’s Little Mavs Movement Academy, a free group intervention program designed to improve the motor skills of children ages four to 16.
For the study, Caçola and her colleagues analyzed 11 articles that focused on the differences between individuals with ASD and DCD. While they found many similarities and some overlap between the two conditions, they are not identical. Because of this, the researchers suggest that physicians should be more aggressive about finding symptoms of DCD in children with autism.
“Motor skills are the root of DCD but they are also really important in autism,” said Caçola. “When autism is diagnosed, motor skills are not the primary concern. But we also found that that there is a lot of co-occurrence of DCD in autism. A lot of individuals may have autism but they are not assessed for DCD. We really need to assess for DCD in children with autism and the earlier the better.”
Caçola said the notion that DCD can be present in autism is new and gaining more attention because more people now recognize the importance of having strong motor skills. Poor motor skills, if left unchecked, can have lifelong consequences for children in nearly every sphere of their lives, she said.
“Poor motor skills could be impairing social skills even more,” she added.
The new findings are published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Source: University of Texas at Arlington