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WATCH Motor Development Study: Advancing Screening Tools for ASD

October 29, 2021 - December 31, 2025

Diagnosing ASD is challenging, and in most cases, a variety of subtle signs, unique to each child, build up starting in the 1st year (e.g., social, language, motor, attention skills). Motor skills, an understudied area, is also one of the earliest skills affected; although we are aware that early intervention is associated with the best outcomes, the median age of diagnosis remains 4 years. If we could detect signs of ASD earlier and more reliably, we could identify children who would benefit from behavioral therapies faster.

What are the goals of the study?

Our goal is to validate wearable-sensor methodology (wrist-worn accelerometers) for quantifying two endophenotypes: hyperactivity (HYP, an early marker of liability to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is strongly comorbid with autism) and impairment in motor coordination (MOT). We expect to gain a comprehensive understanding of motor endophenotypes in infants and children as a launching point for future screening and early intervention studies in children at a high-risk for autism.

What will happen during the visit or online?

You and your child will visit Washington University up to two times when they are 18-39 months of age. Prior to visiting, parents will complete online questionnaires about family history and your child’s development. Families are compensated for their time. In-person activities include the children participating in tasks testing gross and fine motor skills. Following the in-person motor and social assessments, the child will be given an accelerometry wristband to wear at home for 48 hours, and a parent will need to record notes of their motor activity.

How will this help families?

If we could detect signs of ASD related to motor skills earlier and more reliably, we could identify children who would benefit from behavioral therapies faster. Earlier access to behavioral therapies for children diagnosed with autism can lead to faster improvements and better outcomes for their behavior.

Eligibility Criteria

Children with a diagnosis of ASD who are between 18 and 39 months of age are eligible.

View the study flyer here.

Contact Information

Meghan Campbell – marruslab@wustl.edu

Research Study Website
Washington University School of Medicine

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