Weighted Walking Influences Lower Extremity Coordination in Children on the Autism Spectrum
Perceptual and Motor Skills
© The Author(s) 2018. There is sparse quantitative research regarding gait coordination patterns of children on the autism spectrum, though previous studies, relying only upon observational data, have alluded to characteristically poor movement coordination. This study compared walking with a weighted vest, a backpack carriage, and an unloaded walking condition on lower extremity coordination among 10 male children (aged 8–17 years) on the autism spectrum. All participants completed 15 gait trials in the following three conditions: (a) unloaded, (b) wearing a backpack weighted with 15% body mass, and (c) wearing a vest weighted with 15% body mass. We used continuous relative phase analysis to quantify lower extremity coordination and analyzed data through both group and single-subject comparisons. We used the Model Statistic to test for statistical significance at each of the normalized data points for each segment couple (thigh–leg, leg–foot, and thigh–foot). The first 10 and last 10 stride blocks were tested for possible accommodation strategies. Group comparisons revealed no coordination changes among the three conditions (likely due to insufficient statistical power), while single-subject comparisons exposed significant decreased variability in gait coordination patterns (p <.05) in both loaded conditions, relative to the unloaded condition. These participants exhibited variable coordination patterns during the unloaded gait. When walking with loads, coordination pattern variability of the lower extremities was decreased. This finding suggests that walking while carrying or wearing heavy objects may reduce the number of potential motor pattern choices and thus decrease the overall variability of lower extremity movement patterns. Additional research with a larger and more diverse participant sample is required to confirm this conclusion.