Dyspraxia in autism: association with motor, social, and communicative deficits


* Correspondence to last author at Kennedy Krieger Institute, 707 N Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. E-mail: mostofsky@kennedykrieger.org


Impaired performance of skilled gestures, referred to as dyspraxia, is consistently reported in children with autism; however, its neurological basis is not well understood. Basic motor skill deficits are also observed in children with autism and it is unclear whether dyspraxia observed in children with autism can be accounted for by problems with motor skills. Forty-seven high-functioning children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism, or Asperger syndrome (43 males, four females; mean age 10y 7m [SD 1y 10m], mean Full-scale IQ (FSIQ) 99.4 [SD 15.9]), and 47 typically developing (TD) controls (41 males, six females; mean age 10y 6m [SD 1y 5m], mean FSIQ 113.8 [SD 12.3], age range 8–4y) completed: (1) the Physical and Neurological Assessment of Subtle Signs, an examination of basic motor skills standardized for children, and (2) a praxis examination that included gestures to command, to imitation, and with tool-use. Hierarchical regression was used to examine the association between basic motor skill performance (i.e. times to complete repetitive limb movements) and praxis performance (total praxis errors). After controlling for age and IQ, basic motor skill was a significant predictor of performance on praxis examination. Nevertheless, the ASD group continued to show significantly poorer praxis than controls after accounting for basic motor skill. Furthermore, praxis performance was a strong predictor of the defining features of autism, measured using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and this correlation remained significant after accounting for basic motor skill. Results indicate that dyspraxia in autism cannot be entirely accounted for by impairments in basic motor skills, suggesting the presence of additional contributory factors. Furthermore, praxis in children with autism is strongly correlated with the social, communicative, and behavioral impairments that define the disorder, suggesting that dyspraxia may be a core feature of autism or a marker of the neurological abnormalities underlying the disorder.