BackgroundAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) is highly prevalent in fragile X syndrome (FXS), affecting 50-70% of males. Motor impairments are a shared feature across autism and FXS that may help to better characterize autism in FXS. As motor skills provide a critical foundation for various language, cognitive, and social outcomes, they may serve an important mechanistic role for autism in FXS. As such, this study aimed to identify differences in motor trajectories across direct assessment and parent-report measures of fine and gross motor development between FXS with and without autism, and typical development, while controlling for cognitive functioning.
MethodsThis prospective longitudinal study included 42 children with FXS, 24 of whom also had ASD (FXS + ASD), as well as 40 typically developing children. The Mullen Scales of Early Learning provided a direct measure of fine and gross motor skills, and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales provided a measure of parent-reported fine and gross motor skills. Random slopes and random intercepts multilevel models were tested to determine divergence in developmental motor trajectories between groups when controlling for cognitive level.
ResultsModel results indicated the children with FXS + ASD diverged from TD children by 9-months on all measures of gross and fine motor skills, even when controlling for cognitive level. Results also indicated an early divergence in motor trajectories of fine and gross motor skills between the FXS + ASD and FXS groups when controlling for cognitive level. This divergence was statistically significant by 18 months, with the FXS + ASD showing decelerated growth in motor skills across direct observation and parent-report measures.
ConclusionsThis study is the first to examine longitudinal trends in motor development in children with FXS with and without comorbid ASD using both direct assessment and parent-report measures of fine and gross motor. Furthermore, it is among the first to account for nonverbal cognitive delays, a step towards elucidating the isolated role of motor impairments in FXS with and without ASD. Findings underscore the role of motor impairments as a possible signal representing greater underlying genetic liability, or as a potential catalyst or consequence, of co-occurring autism in FXS.