A new study suggests that the handwriting problems that affect children with autism are likely to continue into their teenage years. The research is published in the November 16, 2010, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study included 24 girls and boys between the age of 12 and 16. Half of the group had autism spectrum disorder and all of the teenagers scored within the normal range of perceptual reasoning on an IQ test.
The teens were given the Minnesota Handwriting Assessment Test, which uses a scrambled sentence to eliminate any speed advantage for more fluent readers. The sentence used on the test was "the brown jumped lazy fox quick dogs over." Participants were asked to copy the words in the sentence, making the letters the same size and shape as the sample using their best handwriting.
The handwriting was scored based on five categories: legibility, form, alignment, size and spacing. The teenagers' motor skills, including balance and timed movements, were also examined and given a rating.
The research found that the teenagers with autism earned 167 points out of 204 total possible points on the handwriting assessment, compared to the 183 points scored by teens in the group without autism. These results showed statistical significance in the study. The teenagers with autism also had motor skill impairments.
Handwriting performance in adolescents with autism was predicted by perceptual reasoning scores, which reflect a person's ability to reason through problems with nonverbal material. "That reasoning skills can predict handwriting performance suggests a possible strategy by which adolescents with autism could learn and utilize compensatory strategies to overcome motor impairments," said study author Amy Bastian, PhD, of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD.
"While teenagers with autism are more likely to have handwriting problems, there are several techniques available to improve handwriting quality, such as adjusting pencil grip, stabilizing the writing hand with the opposite hand or forming letters more slowly. These therapies could help teens with autism to progress academically and develop socially," said Bastian.
The study was supported by Autism Speaks Pre-Doctoral Fellowship and the National Institutes of Health.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is the nation's fastest growing developmental disorder, with current incidence rates estimated at 1 in 110 children. This year more children will be diagnosed with autism than AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined, yet profound gaps remain in our understanding of both the causes and cures of the disorder. Continued research and education about developmental disruptions in individuals with ASD is crucial, as early detection and intervention can lead to improved outcomes in individuals with ASD.
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