The roll of dynamic systems theory in motor development research: How does theory inform practice and what are the implications for autism spectrum disorder?


This article is one of my most read articles on ResearchGate. This article reviews the literature examining dynamic systems theory and its' effectiveness in capturing how motor skills are developed. This article then examines how this theory might inform how motor skill development is explored in autistic youth.


Dynamic systems theory (DST) outlines three constraints (i.e. individual, task, and environment) that influence the emergence of behavior. These constraints interact with one another to self-organize and create a spontaneous behavior. For many researchers studying motor development, this spontaneous behavior refers to the production of motor movement. DST provides an explanation for the variability and spontaneous movement that occurs from individual to individual. While this theory is accepted as one of the major explanations of motor development, it is unknown how it is being utilized to inform the research on motor development or the development of interventions. In this review, the author found 18 instances in the literature where DST had been used to analyze, test, or manipulate motor patterns and movement. Overall, the studies report a positive effect from the manipulation of constraints with respect to a change in motor pattern. Only one study was found that sought to positively improve behavior through the directed use of constraints; the majority of studies sought to understand the influence constraints have on the production of movement.

Self Archived Manuscript

Colombo-Dougovito_2016_The role of dynamic systems theory in motor development research- how does theory inform practice and what are the potential implications for autism spectrum disorder-.pdf205.9KB