Certain Movements Can Signify the Severity of Autism

PTAccording to a recent study, slight differences in movements among individuals with autism can signify the severity of the disorder. Researchers at Rutgers University in conjunction with Indiana University have developed a quantitative method of analyzing movement, leading to a more specific diagnosis.

Jorge Jose, vice president of research at IU states, “This is the first time that we have been able to explicitly characterize subtypes of severity in autism spectrum disorder. We have determined that a pattern exists in the movement variations in some cases between children with autism and their parents, leading us to surmise that genetics plays a role in movement patterns”.

The team of researchers utilized high-sensitivity movement detectors to record minor variations in movement for a group of participants. They focused on how the participants extended their arms to touch different objects on a screen. Researchers recorded 240 movements per second for 30 individuals with ASD, 8 neurotypical adults, and 21 parents of children on the spectrum.

A spot moved continuously on a screen, and according to researchers, participants touched the spot an average of 100 consecutive times. Elizabeth Torres, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers, states, “These variations in the hand’s movement speed produced a pattern that clustered in specific regions of a graph that produced metrics we could use – not only in children with autism but in their parents”.

According to their press release: “The [minor] fluctuations in the speed of movements [in healthy adults], which we call peripheral spikes (p-spikes) normally occur at the onset or at the end of the arm extension exercise. They show very few p-spikes during the actual action, as the hand speeds up or slows down en route to the target.” The statement continues, “However, healthy children in the 3-5 year old range have random patterns of p-spikes as do adults and children with ASD.”

Researchers discovered that parents of children on the spectrum had random fluctuations in their speed, as well. The patterns of fluctuation were noted to be very useful in determining the severity of autism. Jose concluded, “We found a correlation between the randomness of the p-spikes and the severity of autism. Among those with autism, the more random their p-spikes, the lower ability [in skills such as spoken language], they had overall.”

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