University of Kansas researchers have found a link between the strength of someone’s grip and how they accomplish it and how their brains function abnormally.

“The really important thing about studying motor behaviors is that we are able to quantify those in a very precise way,” said Kathryn Unruh, a postdoctoral researcher at KU’s Life Span Institute and Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART). “The example that I like to give is, it may be really challenging to put a number on something like empathy, maybe you have an empathy score of 9 and I have an empathy score of 6, what does that mean? How do we know how much greater 9 is than 6? When we’re studying motor behaviors, I can put a specific number, for example on how strong somebody’s grip force is.”

This research is in its very preliminary stages, but having a physiological, measurable data point could eventually help in diagnosis.

“One of the most challenging things about autism researchers are trying to address is, how do we identify kids very early in life,” asked Unruh. “We know that early intervention is a great predictor of how successful someone will be later in life. It’s difficult oftentimes to differentiate autism from other neurodevelopmental disorders. Motor symptoms are one of the things we see very early in life.”

It’s important that parents buy in early to their role in increasing the quality of life for their autistic children.

“One of the best ways that we can implement intervention strategies for kids with autism is to train their parents,” said Unruh. “We like to say that parents are experts in their children. Regardless of how
much I might know, or how much a clinician might know, the parents are the experts.”

The researchers are actively seeking individuals with ASD and individuals without ASD ages 10-35 years for ongoing NIH-funded studies of sensorimotor behavior and brain function. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Photo courtesy: KU News Service