Sensory-motor problems in Autism

Caroline Whyatt, Cathy Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


Despite being largely characterised as a social and cognitive disorder, strong evidence indicates the presence of significant sensory-motor problems in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This paper outlines our progression from initial, broad assessment using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (M-ABC) to subsequent targeted kinematic assessment. In particular, pronounced ASD impairment seen in the broad categories of manual dexterity and ball skills was found to be routed in specific difficulties on isolated tasks, which were translated into focused experimental assessment. Kinematic results from both subsequent studies highlight impaired use of perception-action coupling to guide, adapt and tailor movement to task demands, resulting in inflexible and rigid motor profiles. In particular difficulties with the use of temporal adaption are shown, with "hyperdexterity" witnessed in ballistic movement profiles, often at the cost of spatial accuracy and task performance. By linearly progressing from the use of a standardised assessment tool to targeted kinematic assessment, clear and defined links are drawn between measureable difficulties and underlying sensory-motor assessment. Results are specifically viewed in-light of perception-action coupling and its role in early infant development suggesting that rather than being 'secondary' level impairment, sensory-motor problems may be fundamental in the progression of ASD. This logical and systematic process thus allows a further understanding into the potential route of observable motor problems in ASD; a vital step if underlying motor problems are to be considered a fundamental aspect of autism and allow a route of non-invasive preliminary diagnosis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 Jul 2013


  • autism spectrum disorders, perception-action coupling, prospective control, movement, developmental psychology


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