Movement And Autism: Why The Link?

Researchers are developing methods to analyze movement patterns in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with the hope that these may be invaluable tools for aiding the diagnostic process and eventually designing interventions. While movement difficulties have long been recognized to be part of ASD, these newer approaches are embracing the idea that movement is a core process via which infants develop their way of interacting with the world – one that it is critically linked with the development of a number of brain areas that underlie social and cognitive development

Consider the ways in which babies use movement to learn about the world. Think about how a baby pulls themselves up, starts to crawl, and learns to walk – from the perspective of how these movement-based actions allow them to explore their world. Think about how they use their hands to experience and manipulate their physical and social environment. These processes have been appreciated by developmentalists for a very long time. But what’s new is understanding how important movement is for establishing brain development. Recent advances in neuroimaging are showing, for example, how  the cerebellum is not just specialized for movement – it also has subsections involved in processing cognitive and emotional stimuli. Movement isn’t just about movement – it’s a fundamental vessel for integrating information out in the world and then translating that information into action.

We will continue to see more and more evidence for movement-brain-cognition links in the future. But the bottom line is that encouraging movement as a way of exploring the physical and social world in infancy and toddlerhood is a very good thing for the brain. And it may turn out that it will also be one avenue to help improve both diagnostics and generate potential interventions early in life for children with ASD.

Baby Crawling With Determined Look via Shutterstock.com

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