From “one big clumsy mess” to “a fundamental part of my character.” Autistic adults’ experiences of motor coordination

Emma Gowen, Louis Earley, Adeeba Waheed, Ellen Poliakoff

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Altered motor coordination is common in autistic individuals affecting a range of movements such as manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, balance and gait. However, motor coordination is not routinely assessed leading to undiagnosed and untreated motor coordination difficulties, particularly in adults. Few studies have investigated motor coordination difficulties and their impact from the viewpoint of autistic people. Therefore, the current study used FGs and thematic analysis to document the experience of motor coordination difficulties from the viewpoint of 17 autistic adults. Four main themes were identified. First, motor coordination difficulties were pervasive and variable, being present life-long and within multiple movements and affecting many aspects of life. Furthermore, the nature of the difficulties was variable within and between participants along with differing awareness of coordination ability. Second, participants described motor coordination as an active process, requiring concentration for most actions and at a level seemingly greater than other people. Third, motor coordination difficulties impacted upon social and emotional wellbeing by placing strain on relationships, prompting bullying and exclusion, putting safety at risk and causing a range of negative emotions. Fourth, in the absence of any support, participants described multiple learning and coping strategies. Findings highlight how it is essential to address the current lack of support for motor coordination considering the significant social and emotional consequences described by our participants. Further investigation of motor learning and interactions between sensory and motor performance in autistic adults is also warranted.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2023


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