, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 155-167

Handedness patterns in autism suggest subtypes

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The present study reports preliminary data from two unselected samples of carefully diagnosed autistic subjects (children and adults) and an assessment procedure that includes a large sample of items, appropriate for lowerfunctioning autistic subjects, with multiple presentations within and between sessions 1 week apart. The study seeks to determine (1) whether a raised incidence of non-right-handedness exists in these samples (2) if so, what constructs best represent this shift in the handedness distribution (i.e., phenotype and CNS substrate) and (3) whether these handedness phenotypes are associated with different levels of cognitive functioning. The results reveal a dramatic shift away from right-handedness in both autistic samples, due to a raised incidence of two phenotypes, manifest left-handedness and ambiguous handedness. The ambiguously handed, who were postulated to represent substantial bilateral CNS pathology due to early brain injury, were found to have much lower intellectual scores in one of the study samples.

This research was supported, in part, by the following DHS funds: NIH (NS-18462) award to the second author, NIMH Fellowship (1 F32 MH09082) to the first author, and USPHS Fellowship (5 F34 08865) to the fourth author. The authors wish to thank Suzanne McCallum, M. A., and Elizabeth Schmid, M.D., for useful discussions during the course of this research. Special thanks are also extended to Drs. Peter Tanguay (UCLA) and Israel Perel (Camarillo) and their respective staffs for help in facilitating the subject selection. We would also like to thank Dr. B. J. Freeman for supplying the intellectual data. The authors also gratefully acknowledge Susan Benton, Pennie Foster, Geralyn Freeland, Bruce Hersch, Laura Mayo, Frank Wood, Ute Wurfer, and Edie Zusman for their help in data collection. Special thanks are also extended to Mrs. Nita Mize and Mr. James Stonich for assistance in manuscript preparation.