• Movement Health System: Postural & Motor Function Deficits (Autistic Child)

  • A Clinical Research Update 2016 – (The Autistic Child)

    By Mark Mashburn PT OCS

    According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey of the CDC, 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [1]. This rate of ASD diagnosis is higher than the prior official government estimate of 1 in 68 American children with ASD, released in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Abnormalities of motor coordination, posture, and gait are also frequently associated with the austistic child. [2].

    Postural control and movement awareness observed in children with autism appear to differ from that of typically developing children. Multiple studies have shown that ASD children have more postural/balance deficits than typically developing children of comparable age [2].

    Post-Mortem Brain Studies and Neural Image Study Overview: With ASD, one of the most consistent abnormalities found includes the cerebellum and areas related to it. Most all of the postmortem brains of autistic individuals studied to date, regardless of age, sex, and cognitive ability, have shown a significant decrease in the number of Purkinje cells in the cerebellar areas of the brain. Additional common abnormalities include the small, concentrated cerebellar control centers (“deep cerebellar nuclei”), which show small and pale neurons of a fewer number in ASD cases over 21 years of age. In ASD children cases studied at ages 5-13, the neurons in these same cerebellar control centers were unusually large and plentiful in number.   These changes (in brain cell size, number, and function) shows that ASD appears to be an ongoing brain development, reorganization process.

    Cerebellar Functions and ASD:   ASD children have been shown to have higher rates of problems with the postural system, oculomotor, vestibular, gross and fine motor control related to cerebellar functioning. The cerebellum is also important to non-motor functions: For example, related to language in ASD, deficits in cerebellum function can relate to problems in language phonological processing, articulation, fluency, and auditory comprehension[3].

    Summary:  Based on this research, therapy and intervention for ASD should not be limited to speech, language, sensory processing, and education, but also should include screening, Therapy for postural function, balance/gait, movement awareness, foot sequence and mobility functions vs. their community. The ASD child often requires skilled intervention for maximal postural awareness, movement planning and “self-check”, gait and lower quarter movement functions, and this will impact those with ASD vs. future adulthood postural function, mobility, and health.



    1. National Health Interview Survey. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/index.htm.
    2. Bucci MP et al. The Effect of Performing a Dual Task on Postural Control in Children with Autism.   ISRN Neuroscience. Volume 2013: 1-5. Article ID 796174.
    3. Fatemi SH et al. Consensus Paper: Pathological Role of the Cerebellum in Autism. Cerebellum. 2012 September; 11(3): 777–807. doi:10.1007/s12311-012-0355-9.