Moving Toward Understanding Autism: Visual-Motor Integration, Imitation, and Social Skill Development

Daniel E. Lidstone, Stewart H. Mostofsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a behavioral phenotype characterized by impaired development of social-communicative skills and excessive repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Despite high phenotypic heterogeneity in ASD, a meaningful subpopulation of children with ASD (∼90%) show significant general motor impairment. More focused studies on the nature of motor impairment in ASD reveal that children with ASD are particularly impaired on tasks such as ball catching and motor imitation that require efficient visual-motor integration (VMI). Motor computational approaches also provide evidence for VMI impairment showing that children with ASD form internal sensorimotor representations that bias proprioceptive over visual feedback. Impaired integration of visual information to form internal representations of others’ and the external world may explain observed impairments on VMI tasks and motor imitation of others. Motor imitation is crucial for acquiring both social and motor skills, and impaired imitation skill may contribute to the observed core behavioral phenotype of ASD. The current review examines evidence supporting VMI impairment as a core feature of ASD that may contribute to both impaired motor imitation and social-communicative skill development. We propose that understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying VMI impairment in ASD may be key to discovery of therapeutics to address disability in children and adults with ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-105
Number of pages8
JournalPediatric Neurology
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Autism
  • Internal representations
  • Motor imitation
  • Visual-motor integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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