Autism Spectrum Disorder affects around 1 in 88 Australian children, and one Australian Rotary Health PhD scholar believes that motor functioning may hold the key in improving clinical diagnosis and definition.

Supported ARH, the Rotary Club of Illawarra Sunrise and Deakin University, Simone Thomas is investigating how reduced motor functioning in 4 to 6-year-old children with Autism impacts on their social and community-based participation.

“The study aims to investigate the relationship between functional movement skills, such as running, throwing and catching a ball, with motor skills and health factors, such as obesity,” Simona said.

“The research that I will conduct during my PhD will assist in the early diagnosis of children with Autism, and improve not only their quality of life, but also improve the quality of life of their family members.”

So far during her studies, Simone has found a possible association between behavioural sleep problems and motor impairments.

“This sparked great interest at the International Meeting for Autism Research conference, held in the USA in May in 2016, and continues to be a key focus of my PhD,” Simone said.

“It was also interesting to note that the levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity that children with Autism engage in, does not differ to typically developing children at the preschool prep age.”

These findings may have important implications for both research and interventions, Simone says.

“It may mean that if appropriate interventions are put in place in this age group, there may be a positive flow on effect to the later primary and adolescent years.”

Simone has recently submitted a paper to the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, which is currently under review.

“I believe that by further investigating factors such as motor skills and sleep in pre-primary aged children with Autism, early interventions and diagnosis may be able to be improved.”

“I am looking forward to further investigating the sleep and motor connection, and to see how the results of the Autism Spectrum Disorder sample compare to typically developing children.”

Simone is due to complete her PhD in 2020 and we wish her all the best with her research.


Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or