Walking and talking
How are these skills related?
When you visit your pediatrician with your child, the doctor probably asks you a lot of questions about how your child is developing. Some of these questions involve motor development, such as rolling over, crawling and walking. While checking on these milestones can be important signs of good health, recent research has begun to examine the possible additional connection between these motor skills and social-cognitive development. In other words, motor skills may be linked to gains in communication.
Previous research suggested that motor skills such as walking can contribute to communicative development because the added mobility allows children to engage with their environment, including developing joint attention skills (for more on joint attention skills, see this blog post). This is also true for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD has, more and more, been acknowledged to be linked to atypical motor development. Combined with the atypical language and communication development seen in ASD, the nature of their link is a potentially fruitful source of information useful for both research and the development of potential therapies.
Rachael Bedford and colleagues recently published a study in Autism Research looking for a clearer picture of the relationship between motor skills and communication development. The goal of the study was to see whether motor skills and the age children start walking are related to the development of language skills in children with ASD.
To study this, they measured the daily living skills (including the age the child started walking), intelligence, and symptoms of autism four times between the ages of 2 and 9 years. They then compared this information across children to determine whether there were any consistent trends. The most convincing trend they found was that better gross motor skills were associated with better communication skills. However, the researchers were unable to determine whether, specifically, the age at which a child starts walking might relate to future communication development.
So did we learn anything?
What this means for now is that we need to do more research into what else might be playing a role in communication development. What we do know is that gross motor skills are an important part of development that should be noted, especially in those children at risk for autism or demonstrating other deficits. It was also noted that learning to walk is more of a gradual process than it is often given credit for. More research is needed to clarify these findings, but that does not mean that there were no important conclusions to draw. For one, though we have yet to truly understand this link, we may find that helping children with their motor skills allows them the engage with their environment more, providing more learning opportunities and supporting communication development.
Bedford, R., Pickles, A., & Lord, C. (2015). Early gross motor skills predict the subsequent development of language in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research.