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Attention and sensory integration for postural control in young adults with autism spectrum disorders

Abstract

Postural control impairments have been reported in adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Balance relies on the integration of multisensory cues, a process that requires attention. The purpose of this study was to determine if the influence of attention demands on sensory integration abilities relevant for balance partially contributes to postural control impairments in ASD. Young adults with ASD (N = 24) and neurotypical participants (N = 24) were exposed to sensory perturbations during standing. An established dual-task paradigm was used, requiring participants to maintain balance in these sensory challenging environments and to perform auditory information processing tasks (simple reaction time task and choice reaction time task). Balance was assessed using sway magnitude and sway speed, and attention demands were evaluated based on the response time in the auditory tasks. While young adults with ASD were able to maintain balance in destabilizing sensory conditions, they were more challenged (greater sway speed) than their neurotypical counterparts. Additionally, when exposed for an extended amount of time (3 min) to the most challenging sensory condition included in this study, adults with ASD exhibited a reduced ability to adapt their postural control strategies (sway speed was minimally reduced), demonstrating a postural inflexibility pattern in ASD compared to neurotypical counterparts. Finally, the impact of performing an auditory information processing task on balance and the dual-task cost on information processing (response time) was similar in both groups. ASD may disrupt temporal adaptive postural control processes associated with sensory reweighting that occurs in neurotypicals.

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Acknowledgements

NIH R21 HD079254. Joseph Furman, MD, PhD and his team for conducting the vestibular screenings and interpreting the results. University of Pittsburgh Center for Excellence in Autism Research

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Correspondence to Rakié Cham.

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Communicated by Francesco Lacquaniti.

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Cham, R., Iverson, J.M., Bailes, A.H. et al. Attention and sensory integration for postural control in young adults with autism spectrum disorders. Exp Brain Res 239, 1417–1426 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-021-06058-z

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Postural control
  • Attention