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Early delays in motor skills may predict later language problems

There is an important link between motor skills and language, according to a recent report, which adds to a growing body of evidence showing that motor deficits can help predict speech delays.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that children who were poorly verbal by age 3 and who had continuous speech delays into adulthood also most often had fine motor delays in childhood.

Vanessa H. Bal, PhD, Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism, associate professor at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and lead author of the study, says the report should be used as a reminder that language development is a complex process.

“We need more studies to understand whether the link between extremely delayed fine motor skills and subsequent language development reflects associations with other motor deficits affecting speech, developmental stunts, or other factors that affect the development of the two areas of competence, ”explains Bal.

According to the report, up to 74% of preschoolers with autism are low-verbal, and more research is needed to understand what factors impact the long-term expressive development of these children and which treatments can best help. .

This study examined predictors of expressive language in preschoolers with language delay. The study group included 86 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and language delay at age 3. Selected participants used single words or less based on autism diagnostic observational programming tests, and communication trajectories were compared using mixed pattern trajectories at age 10, 5 and 19 years old.

The research team found that a delay in fine motor skills was a key predictor of subsequent delays in language and expressive communication in children with autism, with delayed fine motor skills being the strongest predictor of language at age 19. The results of the study highlight severe motor delays as a particularly silent marker for identifying children with autism with language delay who are at risk for long-term language delays.

Regarding suggestions for interventions or prevention techniques for clinicians, Bal says this is a question that has yet to be fully answered.

“We don’t yet know if the fine motor association has to do with broader motor issues that could be targeted directly or more complex processes,” Bal said. “However, one thing pediatricians can do is refer children with language delays for full assessments and encourage families to pursue assessments that will provide a picture of their child’s strengths and challenges in areas. including, but not limited to, language. “

While the language deficits are significant, Bal says there’s a lot to consider besides speaking.
“It’s easy to focus on language if a young child isn’t speaking yet, but it suggests that we need assessments in other areas, with motor skills being important but not the only factor to consider.” , explains Bal.

Bal says she hopes the report will help lead to more in-depth assessments for children with autism who experience delays in these areas.

“I hope children will receive more comprehensive assessments to understand their individual strengths and challenge profiles to inform treatment programs to leverage strengths, challenge skills and impairments. I also hope that service providers who support young children are really careful in taking the “wait and see” approach when parents report issues and make referrals earlier, ”Bal said. “Often the waiting lists are long, so if a child is referred there is probably still time for them to be watched and observed before the assessment takes place; however, if we delay referrals we risk truly missing critical developmental periods and opportunities for These practices will hopefully improve patient outcomes.

Pediatricians should also note the importance of participating in research in this area in order to advance therapies, she says.

“Several hundred families have provided information to US and Canadian Studies, not once, but multiple times over the course of their children’s lives,” Bal said. “Longitudinal studies are truly invaluable in helping to understand development, and we are very grateful to families who wish to take the time out of their lives to participate in research. Without their commitment, we would not be able to do important studies like these. “

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