Motor-based interventions improve language outcomes in children with autism: A systematic review

Author ORCID Identifier

Christina Odeh:

Allison Gladfelter:

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Clinical Archives of Communication Disorders



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Purpose: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show motor deficits in addition to the social communication and repetitive behaviors characteristic of the disorder. However, these deficits have traditionally been targeted independently during intervention. The primary purpose of this systematic review was to determine whether interventions with motor targets improved language or social communication outcomes in individuals with ASD. Methods: Five databases were searched using the following terms:autis∗, asper∗, motor∗, therap∗, interven∗, and treat∗. After eliminating irrelevant and duplicate articles, 74 articles underwent full text review to determine whether they met the inclusionary/exclusionary criteria. The 15 included articles were then checked for inter-rater reliability and appraised for the quality of their research design, treatment fidelity, and interobserver agreement. Following the quality appraisals, 13 included articles were analyzed for final data extraction. Results: Of the 13 included studies, 12 showed at least one increased language outcome, seven demonstrated at least one increased motor outcome, and one revealed no significant change in either language or motor outcomes. Conclusions: Consistent with previous research, many of the children with ASD presented weaknesses in both motor and language skills. In most studies, the motor-based interventions led to an increase in language skills, indicating language and motor system interdependence. These findings also suggest that co-treatment between physical therapists and occupational therapists alongside speech-language pathologists may be warranted when working with children with ASD.

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Autism, Language outcomes, Motor intervention


School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders; School of Interdisciplinary Health Professions; School of Health Studies; College of Law