From the Journals

Children with autism show distinct brain features related to motor impairment



Results should raise awareness

“The results were largely predicted in our hypotheses – that we would find specific white matter pathways in autism that would differ from [what we saw in typically developing patients and those with DCD], and that diffusivity in ASD would be related to socioemotional differences,” Dr. Aziz-Zadeh said, in an interview.

“What was surprising was that some pathways that had previously been thought to be different in autism were also compromised in DCD, indicating that they were common to motor deficits which both groups shared, not to core autism symptomology,” she noted.

A message for clinicians from the study is that a dual diagnosis of DCD is often missing in ASD practice, said Dr. Aziz-Zadeh. “Given that approximately 80% of children with ASD have DCD, testing for DCD and addressing potential motor issues should be more common practice,” she said.

Dr. Aziz-Zadeh and colleagues are now investigating relationships between the brain, behavior, and the gut microbiome. “We think that understanding autism from a full-body perspective, examining interactions between the brain and the body, will be an important step in this field,” she emphasized.

The study was limited by several factors, including the small sample size, the use of only right-handed participants, and the use of self-reports by children and parents, the researchers noted. Additionally, they noted that white matter develops at different rates in different age groups, and future studies might consider age as a factor, as well as further behavioral assessments, they said.

Small sample size limits conclusions

“Understanding the neuroanatomic differences that may contribute to the core symptoms of ASD is a very important goal for the field, particularly how they relate to other comorbid symptoms and neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Michael Gandal, MD, of the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and a member of the Lifespan Brain Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in an interview.

“While this study provides some clues into how structural connectivity may relate to motor coordination in ASD, it will be important to replicate these findings in a much larger sample before we can really appreciate how robust these findings are and how well they generalize to the broader ASD population,” Dr. Gandal emphasized.

The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Gandal had no financial conflicts to disclose.


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