Motor awkwardness

The more official term for motor awkwardness is ‘impairments in motor functioning’ which most, if not all people on the spectrum have. It’s one of the reasons why boys with Asd are often not very proficient in sports such as baseball.

In the context of architecture for autism ‘bodily’ or ‘motor awkwardness’ is relevant for interior design: furniture, for instance, should not have sharp edges or protrusions which cause harm to people who fall or walk against them. Kitchens are among the more dangerous places for people who regularly fall or bump into things.

Another example is that regular faucets contain leather washers which break when faucets are regularly tightened too much. People with autism often don’t ‘know’ how much force to apply; if so, ceramic faucets are advisable.

Troubled motor skills cover a broad range of behavior beyond bodily movement such as walking and running. Reaching and grasping with the hands is also part of it. About the exact causes of motor impairments much is still unclear. It is evident however that feedback problems, that is information on the basis of which we can change our movements, play a part. The senses involved in feedback are at least vision, proprioception and balance. In other words: vestibular (among which balance) problems imply a lessened orientation of the body in space and proprioceptive problems disturb adequate feedback from the muscles. Not ‘knowing’ what the muscles are doing exactly can be bad news for encounters with fragile objects and people.

A beautiful description of how it can feel to be physically clumsy is in a letter Gordy (16) wrote to a police officer who was involved in an awareness program about autism. Unique about this is that Gordy had never spoken and his parents didn’t know what was on his mind or that he could write at all – until then. Among other things he wrote: “… I felt very strongly about writing you today, to give a little extra insight on the disconnected links that were supposed to make my brain and body work together in harmony.(…) My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six-foot toddler, resists. (…) The physical signs to look for are flapping hands or some other socially unacceptable movement, words, noises or behaviour in general. That’s uncontrollable. With a mind and feelings much like everyone else’s, do you truly believe we like acting that way? I don’t, that’s for sure.”


The whole letter and the moving story around it can be found here.