Background: Motor milestones such as the onset of walking are important developmental markers, not only for later motor skills but also for more widespread social-cognitive development. The aim of the current study was to test whether gross motor abilities, specifically the onset of walking, predicted the subsequent rate of language development in a large cohort of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Methods: We ran growth curve models for expressive and receptive language measured at 2, 3, 5 and 9 years in 209 autistic children. Measures of gross motor, visual reception and autism symptoms were collected at the 2 year visit. In Model 1, walking onset was included as a predictor of the slope of language development. Model 2 included a measure of non-verbal IQ and autism symptom severity as covariates. The final model, Model 3, additionally covaried for gross motor ability. Results: In the first model, parent-reported age of walking onset significantly predicted the subsequent rate of language development although the relationship became non-significant when gross motor skill, non-verbal ability and autism severity scores were included (Models 2 & 3). Gross motor score, however, did remain a significant predictor of both expressive and receptive language development. Conclusions: Taken together, the model results provide some evidence that early motor abilities in young children with ASD can have longitudinal cross-domain influences, potentially contributing, in part, to the linguistic difficulties that characterise ASD.
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Language development