European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 256–264 | Cite as

Gait function in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder

Evidence for basal-ganglia and cerebellar involvement?
  • Nicole J. RinehartEmail author
  • Bruce J. Tonge
  • John L. Bradshaw
  • Robert Iansek
  • Peter G. Enticott
  • Jenny McGinley


Gait abnormalities have been widely reported in individuals with autism and Asperger’s disorder. There is controversy as to whether the cerebellum or the basal-ganglia frontostriatal regions underpin these abnormalities. This is the first direct comparison of gait and upper-body postural features in autism and Asperger’s disorder. Clinical and control groups were matched according to age, height, weight, performance, and full scale IQ. Consistent with Hallet’s (1993) cerebellar–gait hypothesis, the autistic group showed significantly increased stride-length variability in their gait in comparison to control and Asperger’s disorder participants. No quantitative gait deficits were found for the Asperger’s disorder group. In support of Damasio and Maurer’s (1982) basal-ganglia frontostriatal–gait hypothesis, both clinical groups were rated as showing abnormal arm posturing, however, only the Asperger’s group were rated as significantly different from controls in terms of head and trunk posturing. While DSM-IV-TR suggests that Asperger’s disorder, but not autism, is associated with motoric clumsiness, our data suggest that both clinical groups are uncoordinated and lacking in motor smoothness. Gait differences in autism and Asperger’s disorder were suggested to reflect differential involvement of the cerebellum, with commonalities reflecting similar involvement of the basal-ganglia frontostriatal region.


high-functioning Autism Asperger’s disorder Gait Parkinson’s disease cerebellum 



This research was funded through the Australian National Health & Medical Research Council and Cure Autism Now’s Young Investigator fellowship program (NR), with resources provided in part by the Autism Coalition for Research and Education. Research participants and their families are greatly acknowledged. We greatly acknowledge the research assistance of Amanda Dudley and Roman Capel. We are grateful for the contribution made by Mark Williams during the piloting stages of this research.


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Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag Darmstadt 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole J. Rinehart
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bruce J. Tonge
    • 1
  • John L. Bradshaw
    • 2
  • Robert Iansek
    • 4
  • Peter G. Enticott
    • 1
  • Jenny McGinley
    • 3
  1. 1.Dept. of Psychological MedicineMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.Neuropsychology Research UnitMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  3. 3.Gait Centre for Clinical Research ExcellenceMurdoch Children’s Research UnitParkvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Geriatric Research Unit Kingston Centre, Southern Health Monash Ageing Research CentreMonash UniversityCheltenhamAustralia

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