Is there a link between a child's hand preference and autism?

How an infant chooses their dominant hand could be used to identify if they are at risk of developing language problems

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A study is being undertaken to find out whether there are links between a child’s choice of handedness and language development, in an effort to allow earlier interventions and therapies.

Children typically settle on a dominant hand at about four years of age, around the same time they acquire proper language skills.

Gillian Forrester, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Westminster, says that previous research has suggested that children who have strong left or right-hand preferences have typical language development. (It doesn't matter which hand the child favors so long as one is dominant.) 

However, children who do not choose a dominant hand are more likely to be “linked with atypical development of motor and language abilities.”

Language problems

According to the academic, around 3 to 4 percent of the general population is ambidextrous, but this figure jumps to between 17 and 47 percent among children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Writing in The Conversation, Ms. Forrester says her research is looking at how infant handedness can be used as a “marker” of a child’s risk of developing language problems.

“Current diagnoses of ASDs tend to occur relatively late, when children fail to produce and understand basic language,” the academic writes. “Late diagnoses can limit benefits that may come from early interventions and therapies. Infant brains are incredibly flexible and the right kinds of early intervention may improve later cognitive development and mental health.”

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