The study conducted by researchers from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showed that greater the kids relied on their internal sense of body position (proprioception), the greater was their impairment in social skills, motor skills, and imitation.
For their study, the researchers recruited 14 children with autism and 13 typically developing children, and examined the patterns of generalization as they learnt to use a novel tool.
They further examined how much the autistic kids relied on visual information to guide learning, and how much they relied on proprioceptive information to guide learning.
"These findings can lead to important advances in methods for treating autism. Applying the knowledge gained in the current study, targeted interventions can be developed that enhance visuo-motor associations in children with autism as they learn new skills," Nature magazine quoted Dr. Stewart H. Mostofsky, a pediatric neurologist in the Department of Developmental Cognitive Neurology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, as saying.
"If done early enough, this could help to improve development of motor, social and communicative skills in children with autism.
Further, it could also improve their ability to understand social cues because the brain systems critical to forming internal models of behavior that guide our actions are also critical to developing an understanding of the meaning of those actions," he added.
The study adds to the evidence suggesting that autism may be associated with abnormalities in the brain.
"These findings not only demonstrate why children with autism have difficulty learning motor skills, but also provide real insight into why these children have difficulty learning to interact with the world around them," said Dr. Reza Shadmehr, senior study author and Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"If the way their brain is wired is not allowing them to rely as much as typically developing children on external visual cues to guide behavior, they may have difficulty learning how to interact with other people and interpret the nature of other people's actions," Shadmehr added.
The study appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.