Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education



First Advisor

Ambati, Venkata

Second Advisor

Wallace, Juliane

Third Advisor

Anton, Philip


Clinically significant motor impairment affects 50-100% of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although not included in the diagnostic criteria, research suggests that motor impairments appear during infancy, precipitate the onset and progression of classical autistic symptomology, and are associated with the severity of autist deficits. Presently, few studies directly address motor impairment in ASD. In those that do, physical education, exercise, and exergaming interventions have been found to enhance motor skill proficiency. Little is known about the effect of unstructured physical activity on motor skills in children with autism. Thus, this pilot study sought to examine the impact of unstructured, one-on-one, physically active play on motor skill proficiency as defined by the Test of Gross Motor Development-2 (TGMD-2) in autistic children between ages 3 and 10. Twenty, one-on-one, 60-minute play-based physical activity sessions were administered over a 10-week period (2x/week). The physical activity environment was arranged according to the North Carolina Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communications Handicapped Children (TEACCH) guidelines. Session structure precluded skill teaching and sought to elicit gross and fine motor activity within physical activity opportunity stations, but without regard to type or intensity of activity. A comparison of pre-and post-intervention TGMD-2 scores captured motor skill outcomes. Findings suggest that unstructured physically active play is not sufficient to improve global motor skill competency in young children with autism. However, active play fostered significant improvements in two in running skill scores. The TGMD-2 is designed to assess those skills that would foster participation in physical education and recreational settings. Improved running may advance play-abilities and support other forms of activity. Future research should consider using assessments more sensitive to acute changes in motor skill efficacy, measurement of time spent in physically active play, and qualitative analysis of parent-perceived outcome and improvement.




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