The fundamental cause of autism may be found in the fact that children with autism see simple movements twice as quickly as other children, study suggests. Such heightened sensory perception in autism may help explain why some people with the disorder are painfully sensitive to noise and bright lights.
It also may be linked to some of the complex social and behavioral deficits associated with autism, says Duje Tadin, one of the lead authors on the study and an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. "We think of autism as a social disorder because children with this condition often struggle with social interactions, but what we sometimes neglect is that almost everything we know about the world comes from our senses.
Abnormalities in how a person sees or hears can have a profound effect on social communication," says Tadin. Although previous studies have found that people with autism possess enhanced visual abilities with static images, this is the first research to discover a keener awareness of motion, the authors write. The findings were reported in the Journal of Neuroscience
on May 8 by Tadin, co-lead author Jennifer Foss-Feig, a postdoctoral fellow at the Child Study Center at Yale University, and colleagues at Vanderbilt University.In the study, 20 children with autism and 26 typically developing children, ages 8 to 17, looked at brief video clips of moving black and white bars and simply indicated which direction the bars were heading, right or left.
Each time a participant made the correct direction choice, the next video clip became slightly shorter and thus a little more difficult. When they made a mistake, the next video became a bit longer and thus easier to see. In this way, the researchers were able to measure how quickly children with autism can perceive motion.