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Asperger's Syndrome: Clumsiness and Poor Motor Skills

Date Last Revised: 
October 30, 2008
Date Published: 
April 2, 2007

Since earliest descriptions of Asperger's syndrome, individuals with the disorder have been observed to exhibit poor motor skills and clumsiness. 1   Although not currently part of official DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, such deficits figure heavily in clinical accounts and assessments. 2,3  Individuals with Asperger's often display an odd or uneven gait when walking or running, trouble with ball skills, difficulty with balance, poor handwriting skills, and difficulty imitating or mirroring others’ postures, gestures, or movements. 4

One group of researchers examining these difficulties in detail has theorized that they are due to faulty propioception, that is, to a problem with the sensory system that provides information about where one’s body is in space and how one is moving. Participants with Asperger's in their study performed fine on motor activities that did not involve this sense, but poorly on all of those that did. For example, they could balance on one leg as long as they had their eyes open, but could not when asked to close their eyes. This explanation, say the researchers, would explain the variable results that have been obtained across many studies on motor deficits, and would also explain why a child described as having poor eye-hand coordination because he was terrible at catching, throwing, and kicking a ball could perform like a whiz on computer games that required eye-hand coordination. 5  The deficit involved may not have been eye-hand coordination at all, but propioception.

It has been suggested that clumsiness and motor skills deficits might be a factor that distinguishes those with Asperger's from those with high functioning autism, 6  although several studies have shown no difference between the groups. 7,8,9   Of course, whether there is a clear and distinct difference between high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome in general is still being debated.10,11

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