Which body movement findings are characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019
  • Author: James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Clumsiness, awkward walk, and abnormal motor movements are characteristic features of autistic disorder. Manifestations of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that are very often associated with autistic disorder include hyperkinesis and stereotypies.

Common abnormal motor movements in children with autism include hand flapping, in which the upper extremity is rapidly raised and lowered with a flaccid wrist so that the hand flaps like a flag in the wind. Hand flapping typically occurs when the child is happy or excited. It may occur in combination with movement of the entire body, such as bouncing (ie, jumping up and down) and rotating (ie, constantly spinning around a vertical axis in the midline of the body).

Children with autistic disorder also often display motor tics and are unable to remain still. Because children with autistic disorder are often mentally retarded and nonverbal, expressing subjective experiences associated with the movement is often impossible for them. Thus, the diagnosis of akathisia cannot be applied in these cases, because this diagnosis requires the verbalization of a sensation of inner restlessness and an urge to move.

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