Effectiveness of a Fundamental Motor Skill Intervention for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study

Participation in active play is an important part of a child’s overall development. Play provides children with an opportunity to explore their surroundings, communicate with peers, manipulate toys, and learn how to problem solve. Unfortunately, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have difficulties participating in play in the same way as a child with typical development. Children with ASD experience challenges with their communication, social, and behavioural skills, which may contribute to their difficulties engaging in play. Research has demonstrated that children with ASD also have fundamental motor skills that are significantly delayed for their age. Fundamental motor skills are the basic skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and catching that are essential for a child’s ability to engage in games and play. It is possible that these delayed motor skills may be another one of the critical factors holding back children with ASD from engaging in play, and reaping its developmental benefits.

With this in mind, I looked at the impact of a fundamental motor skill intervention on the motor skills, behaviour, and social skills of 4 year old children with ASD. The intervention was essentially a mini-gym class for these children that ran for 12 consecutive weeks and directly taught them skills such as jumping, kicking, catching, and throwing, among others. Following the intervention we found significant improvements for the group in regard to their fundamental motor skills, and these improvements were maintained 6-weeks following the intervention. Through behavioural video coding of the actual intervention sessions, we also found in increase in the amount of time the children spent in appropriate play, such as playing catch with a peer, and a decrease in the amount of time spent in inappropriate play, such as sitting alone banging an object off the ground. Lastly, following the intervention there were individual improvements to the children’s social and communication skills. So why is this important? It is possible that the improvement in motor skill proficiency provided the young children with ASD with the essential skills needed to engage in active play. As a result, they increased their time spent in appropriate play and improved their social skills. This is ultimately laying the foundation that is needed for a child with ASD to engage in active play with their peers throughout the rest of their childhood, which not only provides them with opportunities for further developmental gains but, lifelong inclusion in physical activities with friends and family.

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