Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol.10, No.2, 1980.

2.4.1 Blind Evaluation of Body Reflexes and Motor Skills in Learning Disability

David Freides, Johanna Barbati, Lynn J. van Kampen-Horowitz, Gwen Sprehn, Craig Iversen, Judith R. Silver, and Roberta Woodward.

Motor dysfunctions have been associated with learning disabilities in casual observation and systematic study. However, most prior work has concentrated solely on high-level skills and has been subject to observer bias. In this study, boys with learning disability were blindly compared with paired controls on measures of postural and equilibrium reflexes as well as skill. Learning-disabled children as a group showed significant deficits on all measures; a few, however, were totally without deficit. The implications of these findings for controversies about the role of dysfunction in learning disabilities are examined.

Although motor impairments were consistently verified in the learning disability population, using coordination exercises for the whole body as a remediation procedure remained an area of disbelief for the educational community. Dr. Ayres' argument, was that in fact, this type of program did improve academic competence. Although Ayres published her findings in the 1972 article Improving academic scores through sensory integration, the educational and psychological academic communities were skeptical that that could be done and indeed, whether learning disabled children were impaired motorically. Prof. Freides investigated the nature of these deficits, while being extremely careful that his investigation did not have an observer bias. A double blind study was conducted with N=11 for the learning disabled group and a matched group of N=7 for the control group. The areas of investigation were: Gross motor unilateralized, Gross motor right and left, Equilibrium, Tone, Fine Motor, and Oculomotor.

Ninety seven items were developed on a five point basis. To assess validity, item scores were individually tested for differences between groups. If the .05 level of significance or better was attained, an item was considered valid. The reliability was set at r > .50. When reliability reached r> ,70 there were 35 items that attained this. Combining this with the validity, 45 items of the 97 met the specification.

Most of the learning-disabled children were impaired motorically, yet two children from this group showed no deficits. Two children showed definite impairment in the tone category.

There were two children from the control group with lowered motor scores. One had a pathological score for the ocular motor items and the other for the gross motor items on the left. So there is variability in patterns of motor deficits in the learning-disability and the control groups.

This systematic controlled study which guards against observer bias, still confirmed that learning-disabled children are likely to suffer subtle motor impairments. Further, that these impairments were not confined to only problems in the skill area, but to the subtle deficits in tonic postural and equilibrium problems. Dr. Freides pleas that this study does not support a cause-effect relationship. There is further need to evaluate the conditions under which motor dysfunction contribute to or are insulated from learning handicaps. ###