Autism Spectrum Disorder: Movement disorders go hand in hand with speech disorders


Autism Spectrum Disorder: Movement disorders go hand in hand with speech disorders

Have you ever been able to tell something was wrong with someone just by watching his or her gait? Your gait is your stride, how long a step you take, plus whether you go from heel to toe and whether your toes stay straight or tend to go in or out. You also look at the tempo or speed at which they walk, and the rhythm created in their step. These characteristics are just what a group of researchers studied with two groups of older adolescents and young adults. One group, classified as “typically developing” and the other group, classified as on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with severe communication disorders.

Participants walked along an electronic runway to measure the different characteristics of their gait. Each participant walked the runway six times and it recorded various aspects of their gait. The researchers confirmed with this study that those with ASD and severe communication disorders had variations on their gait that was significantly different from your average older teenager/young adult. The next question they asked was how does the severe autism and communication disorders relate to the movement disorders. Did one come before the other? What happened in the individual’s brain development to cause this movement disorder to happen?

Music therapists trained in Neurologic Music Therapy, a specialized training, which focuses on how the brain and music interact to retrain neuro-pathways for rehabilitation may be able to support the development of increased typical movement. Because of neuroscience and the birth of MRI technology, music therapists now have proof of how music affects the brain. Music can help the brain “re-direct” and “re-learn” tasks that were lost due to a brain injury or stroke. It can also help modify and acquire new skills and movements in some cases. As humans we subconsciously make social decisions about others based upon mannerism, gait, facial expression, speech etc. Music therapy interventions may assist individuals in acquiring more functional and typical communication, movements and mannerisms which may affect how others perceive and socialize with them.

Weiss, M. J., Moran, M. F., Parker, M. E., Foley, J. T. (2013). Gait analysis of teenagers and young adults diagnosed with autism and severe verbal communication disorders. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 7(33), pp. 1 – 10.

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC
Neurologic Music Therapist