Neuropsychological investigation of motor impairments in autism

Tyler C. Duffield, Haley G. Trontel, Erin D. Bigler, Alyson Froehlich, Molly B. Prigge, Brittany Travers, Ryan R. Green, Annahir N. Cariello, Jason Cooperrider, Jared Nielsen, Andrew Alexander, Jeffrey Anderson, P. Thomas Fletcher, Nicholas Lange, Brandon Zielinski, Janet Lainhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


It is unclear how standardized neuropsychological measures of motor function relate to brain volumes of motor regions in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). An all-male sample composed of 59 ASD and 30 controls (ages 5-33 years) completed three measures of motor function: strength of grip (SOG), finger tapping test (FTT), and grooved pegboard test (GPT). Likewise, all participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging with region of interest (ROI) volumes obtained to include the following regions: motor cortex (precentral gyrus), somatosensory cortex (postcentral gyrus), thalamus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and caudal middle frontal gyrus. These traditional neuropsychological measures of motor function are assumed to differ in motor complexity, with GPT requiring the most followed by FTT and SOG. Performance by ASD participants on the GPT and FTT differed significantly from that of controls, with the largest effect size differences observed on the more complex GPT task. Differences on the SOG task between the two groups were nonsignificant. Since more complex motor tasks tap more complex networks, poorer GPT performance by those with ASD may reflect less efficient motor networks. There was no gross pathology observed in classic motor areas of the brain in ASD, as ROI volumes did not differ, but FTT was negatively related to motor cortex volume in ASD. The results suggest a hierarchical motor disruption in ASD, with difficulties evident only in more complex tasks as well as a potential anomalous size-function relation in motor cortex in ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)867-881
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Brain volume differences
  • Motor cortex volume
  • Motor impairment
  • Network disruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Psychology


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