How Does Autism Affect Motor Skill Development?

How Does Autism Affect Motor Skills Development? | Little Feet Pediatric Occupational Therapy Pediatric Speech Therapy Clinic Washington DC, Charlotte NC, Raleigh NC, St Louis MO

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way the brain develops.

Autistic children can exhibit a wide range of symptoms, such as communication and social issues, repetitive behaviors, and issues with motor skill development.

Motor skill differences commonly occur in those with autism.

These differences can affect balance and coordination, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.

If your autistic child is having difficulty with their motor skill development, we can help.

At Little Feet Therapy, one of our specialties is treating children with autism spectrum disorder.

Our pediatric therapy team includes both occupational therapists and physical therapists for kids.

We have decades of combined experience working with autistic kids and helping them become more independent and live healthy lives.

In this article, we’re going to be looking at some of the ways in which autism can affect motor skill development, and how pediatric therapy can help.

Keep reading to learn more.

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What Type Of Skills Differences Are Common For Autistic Kids?

It’s important to remember that each autistic child is unique, and differences in their motor skills will differ as well.

Generally speaking, however, there are three principal types of motor skills that autistic children commonly have differences in.

These include:

  • Balance and coordination
  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills

Let’s take a closer look at how autism can affect each of these motor skills.

1. Balance & Coordination Differences

Balance and coordination differences can cause challenges for autistic kids in learning to walk, navigate environments, hold on to things, and maintain proper posture.

Furthermore, it can impact their muscle strength and endurance, contributing to decreased muscle tone.

Having balance and coordination differences can also interfere with your child’s ability to develop other motor skills and perform more complex tasks and actions.

Balance and coordination deficits increase their risk of falling and other injuries.

This also makes it challenging to keep up with similar aged peers.

Some signs that your autistic child may have differences in their balance and coordination can include:

  • Frequently falling
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty performing daily activities
  • Preferring activities that don’t require balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Other developmental delays

While balance and coordination differences may cause challenges for your autistic child, pediatric balance therapy can help.

Balance therapy can improve strength and mobility, reduce the risk of falling, improve poor posture and flexibility, and encourage increased activity levels.

2. Gross Motor Skill Differences

Gross motor skills are movements that involve your whole body using the large muscles in your torso, arms, and legs.

Autistic children with gross motor issues may have differences in coordinating their muscle movements and performing tasks.

This can include differences with:

Having gross motor skill differences at a young age may make autistic children reluctant to engage in other physical activities.

This can lead to further developmental delays, as well as limit their social participation.

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They may also have differences in their hand eye coordination.

However, pediatric physical therapy can help your child develop their gross motor skills.

3. Fine Motor Skill Differences

Fine motor skills are movements that involve the smaller muscles in your hands and wrists.

Autistic children with fine motor skill differences may have difficulty with writing or manipulating objects.

Difficulty coordinating these smaller movements, may affect their academic performance, such as having difficulty with handwriting.

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Differences with fine motor skills can also impact their ability to perform daily activities, such as tying their shoes, getting dressed, self care skills, and playing.

Ultimately, the differences in motor skills that autistic children experience can cause other developmental, social, and cognitive delays.

But pediatric physical and occupational therapy can help.

Why Do Autistic Kids Have Motor Skill Differences?

Motor skill differences in autistic children may be caused by predisposed genetic mutations.

For example, certain diagnoses linked with autism may cause low muscle tone or gait abnormalities.

Motor skill differences are usually more pronounced in autistic children who have intellectual disabilities.

However, all autistic kids are more likely to have motor skill differences.

A motor skill difference may also be related to connective differences between various parts of their brain.

Weak connections between sensory and motor regions can have a significant impact on motor skills.

It can affect their ability to synchronize movement and effectively use hand eye coordination.

Autistic children also tend to rely less on visual information.

This can make it difficult for them to have a sense of their body’s position within a space or learn how to coordinate their movements for precise actions, such as using new tools.

What Type Of SKills Differences Are Common For Autistic Kids? | Little Feet Pediatric Occupational Therapy Pediatric Speech Therapy Clinic Washington DC, Charlotte NC, Raleigh NC, St Louis MO

At What Age Might You Start Noticing Motor Skill Differences?

Motor skill differences in autistic children can begin at infancy.

Even at one month old, babies, who are later diagnosed with autism, tend to move their arms less than typical infants.

By four months old, autistic infants will often lack the strength to keep their head in line with their shoulders when placed in a sitting position.

Motor skill differences may cause challenges during tummy time.

When reaching the appropriate developmental age, autistic children may have delays learning to roll, crawl, stand or walk.

They may also display other motor skill differences, such as difficulty sitting up, pointing, clapping, or grasping objects.

If you notice any of the above motor skill differences in your child, it may indicate autism or a developmental delay.

Either way, early intervention is key towards addressing these differences and helping promote motor skill development.

How Can A Pediatric Physical Therapist Help?

Each autistic child has unique physical difficulties that require an individualized approach.

A pediatric physical therapist can help your autistic child develop their gross motor skills.

Like we’ve mentioned, gross motor skills involve whole body movements that use the large muscles in the arms, torso, and legs.

Pediatric physical therapy can help autistic children develop gross motor skills like:

  • Walking
  • Maintaining good posture
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Riding a bike
  • Other physical abilities

After assessing your child’s physical abilities, medical history, and developmental history, a pediatric physical therapist can design a unique treatment plan.

The goal of physical therapy is to help your autistic child develop their gross motor skills, both at home and at school, so that they can have more freedom and participate in activities.

How Can A Pediatric Occupational Therapist Help?

Pediatric occupational therapy can help develop your autistic child’s fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills are abilities that use small body movements that involve the small muscles in the hands and wrists.

Differences with fine motor skills can cause autistic children to have difficulty coordinating precise movements.

Some fine motor skills your child may have differences with, that a pediatric occupational therapist can help address, can include:

  • Handwriting
  • Typing
  • Throwing or catching
  • Self care skills
  • Sensory processing differences
  • Operating a zipper
  • Stacking blocks
  • Buttoning a button
  • Tying shoes
  • Personal hygiene skills
  • Social skills

After assessing your child’s capabilities, a pediatric occupational therapist can design an individualized treatment plan.

Using a wide array of strategies, and providing appropriate goals, they can help your child develop their skills and become more self sufficient.

Book Your Appointment With Little Feet Therapy Today

Do you suspect your child may be autistic?

Have you noticed some motor skill differences as they develop?

If so, our team of pediatric therapists can help.

At Little Feet Therapy we offer both pediatric physical and occupational therapy to help address your child’s motor skill differences.

Book your appointment with Little Feet Therapy today.


Little Feet Therapy
3535 Randolph Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211
1331 H St NW Ste 200, Washington, DC 20005
St. Louis, MO
Raleigh, NC

Founded in 2019, Little Feet Therapy offers on site pediatric physical and occupational therapy treatments for children from 2 months to 18 years old with physical and developmental concerns. Our clinics focus on providing therapy in a child’s natural setting where your child is in familiar surroundings, it puts their mind at ease and helps them focus more on the work they’re doing with their pediatric therapist. Our therapists will work with your child at your home, at school, at daycare, or another place in the community where they feel most comfortable.