Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by a variety of social and non-social behavioral deficits. One potential mechanism that could unify this diverse profile of behaviors is slower processing speed. Seventy-six high-functioning adults with ASD were compared to 64 matched controls on standardized measures of processing speed. Participants with ASD were significantly slower on all measures, and on the composite score from the three tests (d’s > .65). ASD participants with slower processing speeds scored higher on the ADOS Communication and Reciprocal Social Interaction scale (r = .34). These findings provide evidence of slower processing speeds in adults with ASD, and that this may be contributing to impairments in social communication skills. Interventions that improve processing speed might improve social communication abilities in ASD.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barbeau, E. B., Soulières, I., Dawson, M., Zeffiro, T. A., & Mottron, L. (2013). The level and nature of autistic intelligence III: Inspection time. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(1), 295–301. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029984.
Baron-Cohen, S., Jolliffe, T., Mortimore, C., & Robertson, M. (1997). Another advanced test of theory of mind: Evidence from Very high functioning adults with autism or asperger syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38(7), 813–822. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1997.tb01599.x.
Battery, A. T. (1994). Army individual test battery. Manual of Directions and Scoring. Washington, DC: War Department, Adjunct General’s Office.
Bavin, E. L., Kidd, E., Prendergast, L. A., & Baker, E. K. (2016a). Young children with ASD use lexical and referential information during on-line sentence processing. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 171. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00171.
Bavin, E. L., Prendergast, L. A., Kidd, E., Baker, E., & Dissanayake, C. (2016b). Online processing of sentences containing noun modification in young children with high-functioning autism. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 51(2), 137–147. https://doi.org/10.1111/1460-6984.12191.
Cornoldi, C., Giofrè, D., Orsini, A., & Pezzuti, L. (2014). Differences in the intellectual profile of children with intellectual vs. learning disability. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35(9), 2224–2230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.05.013.
Critchley, H. D., et al. (2000). The functional neuroanatomy of social behaviour: Changes in cerebral blood flow when people with autistic disorder process facial expressions. Brain, 123(11), 2203–2212.
Dixon, W. J., & Tukey, J. W. (1968). Approximate behavior of the distribution of winsorized t (Trimming/Winsorization 2). Technometrics, 10(1), 83–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/00401706.1968.10490537.
Eack, S. M., Bahorik, A. L., Hogarty, S. S., Greenwald, D. P., Litschge, M. Y., Mazefsky, C. A., & Minshew, N. J. (2013b). Brief report: Is cognitive rehabilitation needed in verbal adults with autism? insights from initial enrollment in a trial of cognitive enhancement therapy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(9), 2233–2237. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1774-2.
Eack, S. M., Bahorik, A. L., McKnight, S. A. F., Hogarty, S. S., Greenwald, D. P., Newhill, C. E., et al. (2013a). Commonalities in social and non-social cognitive impairments in adults with autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, 148(1–3), 24–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2013.05.013.
Embregts, P., & Van Nieuwenhuijzen, M. (2009). Social information processing in boys with autistic spectrum disorder and mild to borderline intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 53(11), 922–931. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2788.2009.01204.x.
Endicott, J., Spitzer, R. L., Fleiss, J. L., & Cohen, J. (1976). The global assessment scale: A procedure for measuring overall severity of psychiatric disturbance. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33(6), 766–771. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.1976.01770060086012.
Faja, S., Webb, S. J., Merkle, K., Aylward, E., & Dawson, G. (2009). Brief report: Face configuration accuracy and processing speed among adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(3), 532–538. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-008-0635-x.
Fried, R., et al. (2016). A study of the neuropsychological correlates in adults with high functioning autism spectrum disorders. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 28(5), 286–295. https://doi.org/10.1017/neu.2016.12.
Gallagher, S., & Varga, S. (2015). Conceptual issues in autism spectrum disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 28(2), 127–132. https://doi.org/10.1097/yco.0000000000000142.
Green, M. F., Harris, J. G., & Nuechterlein, K. H. (2014). The MATRICS consensus cognitive battery: What we know 6 years later. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(11), 1151–1154. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14070936.
Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 5–25. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/16450045.
Hedvall, Å, Fernell, E., Holm, A., Åsberg Johnels, J., Gillberg, C., & Billstedt, E. (2013). Autism, processing speed, and adaptive functioning in preschool children. The Scientific World Journal, 2013, 158263. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/158263.
Hogarty, G. E., Flesher, S., Ulrich, R., & al, et (2004). Cognitive enhancement therapy for schizophrenia: Effects of a 2-year randomized trial on cognition and behavior. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61(9), 866–876. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.61.9.866.
Holdnack, J., Goldstein, G., & Drozdick, L. (2011). Social perception and WAIS-IV performance in adolescents and adults diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome and autism. Assessment, 18(2), 192–200. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191110394771.
Howard, P. L., Liversedge, S. P., & Benson, V. (2017). Investigating the use of world knowledge during on-line comprehension in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(7), 2039–2053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3129-x.
Huebner, R. A. (1992). Autistic disorder: A neuropsychological enigma. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46(6), 487–501.
Keefe, R. S. E., Goldberg, T. E., Harvey, P. D., Gold, J. M., Poe, M. P., & Coughenour, L. (2004). The Brief assessment of cognition in schizophrenia: Reliability, sensitivity, and comparison with a standard neurocognitive battery. Schizophrenia Research, 68(2–3), 283–297. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2003.09.011.
Kelleher, I., Clarke, M. C., Rawdon, C., Murphy, J., & Cannon, M. (2013). Neurocognition in the extended psychosis phenotype: Performance of a community sample of adolescents with psychotic symptoms on the MATRICS neurocognitive battery. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 39(5), 1018–1026. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbs086.
Kenworthy, L., Yerys, B. E., Weinblatt, R., Abrams, D. N., & Wallace, G. L. (2013). Motor demands impact speed of information processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Neuropsychology, 27(5), 529–536. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033599.
Lerner, M. D., McPartland, J. C., & Morris, J. P. (2013). Multimodal emotion processing in autism spectrum disorders: An event-related potential study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 3, 11–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2012.08.005.
Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. Jr., Leventhal, B., DiLavore, P., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule—generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 205–223. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005592401947.
Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 24(5), 659–685.
Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2007). Learning, attention, writing, and processing speed in typical children and children with ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, and oppositional-defiant disorder. Child Neuropsychology, 13(6), 469–493. https://doi.org/10.1080/09297040601112773.
Mazefsky, C. A., Herrington, J., Siegel, M., Scarpa, A., Maddox, B. B., Scahill, L., & White, S. W. (2013). The role of emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder RH: Emotion regulation in ASD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(7), 679–688. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2013.05.006.
Minshew, N. J., & Goldstein, G. (1998). Autism as a disorder of complex information processing. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 4(2), 129–136.
Nader, A.-M., Jelenic, P., & Soulières, I. (2015). Discrepancy between WISC-III and WISC-IV cognitive profile in autism spectrum: what does it reveal about autistic cognition? PLoS ONE, 10(12), e0144645. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0144645.
Narzisi, A., Muratori, F., Calderoni, S., Fabbro, F., & Urgesi, C. (2013). Neuropsychological profile in high functioning autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(8), 1895–1909. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1736-0.
Nuechterlein, K. H., Green, M. F., Kern, R. S., Baade, L. E., Barch, D. M., Cohen, J. D., et al. (2008). The MATRICS consensus cognitive battery, part 1: Test selection, reliability, and validity. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(2), 203–213. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07010042.
Oliveras-Rentas, R. E., Kenworthy, L., Roberson, R. B., Martin, A., & Wallace, G. L. (2012). WISC-IV Profile in high-functioning autism spectrum disorders: Impaired processing speed is associated with increased autism communication symptoms and decreased adaptive communication abilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(5), 655–664. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1289-7.
Ricketts, J., Jones, C. R. G., Happé, F., & Charman, T. (2013). Reading comprehension in autism spectrum disorders: The role of oral language and social functioning. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 807–816. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1619-4.
Russo-Ponsaran, N. M., McKown, C., Johnson, J. K., Allen, A. W., Evans-Smith, B., & Fogg, L. (2015). Social-emotional correlates of early stage social information processing skills in children with and without autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 8(5), 486–496. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1463.
Sánchez-Cubillo, I., Periáñez, J. A., Adrover-Roig, D., Rodríguez-Sánchez, J. M., Ríos-Lago, M., Tirapu, J., & Barceló, F. (2009). Construct validity of the trail making test: Role of task-switching, working memory, inhibition/interference control, and visuomotor abilities. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society: JINS, 15(3), 438–450. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1355617709090626.
Scheuffgen, K., Happeé, F., Anderson, M., & Frith, U. (2000). High “intelligence,” low “IQ”? Speed of processing and measured IQ in children with autism. Development and Psychopathology, 12(1), 83–90. https://www.cambridge.org/core/article/div-class-title-high-intelligence-low-iq-speed-of-processing-and-measured-iq-in-children-with-autism-div/FDB003BD657D40545D518723B1655CFC.
Schooler, N., Hogarty, G., & Weissman, M. (1979). Social Adjustment Scale II (sas-ii). In W. A. Hargreaves, C. C. Atkisson, & J. E. Sorenson (Eds.), Resource materials for community mental health program evaluations (pp. 290–303). Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.
Torres, E. B., Brincker, M., Isenhower, R. W., Yanovich, P., Stigler, K. A., Nurnberger, J. I., … Jose, J. V. (2013). Autism: The micro-movement perspective. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2013.00032.
Wallace, G. L., Anderson, M., & Happé, F. (2009). Brief report: Information processing speed is intact in autism but not correlated with measured intelligence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(5), 809–814. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-008-0684-1.
Wang, J.-E., & Tsao, F.-M. (2015). Emotional prosody perception and its association with pragmatic language in school-aged children with high-function autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 37(Supplement C), 162–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.11.013.
Wechsler, D. (1997). WAIS-III: Wechsler adult intelligence scale. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Whitaker, L., Jones, C. R. G., Wilkins, A. J., & Roberson, D. (2016). Judging the intensity of emotional expression in faces: The effects of colored tints on individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 9(4), 450–459. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1506.
Whyatt, C., & Craig, C. (2013). Sensory-motor problems in Autism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7, 51.
Wilkinson, G. S., & Robertson, G. J. (2006). WRAT 4: Wide range achievement test; professional manual. Lutz: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Williams, D., Goldstein, G., & Minshew, N. (2013). The modality shift experiment in adults and children with high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 794–806. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1618-5.
Williams, D. L., Minshew, N. J., & Goldstein, G. (2015). Further understanding of complex information processing in verbal adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 19(7), 859–867. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361315586171.
Worsham, W., Gray, W. E., Larson, M. J., & South, M. (2014). Conflict adaptation and congruency sequence effects to social–emotional stimuli in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 19(8), 897–905. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361314553280.
Yeung, M. K., Han, Y. M. Y., Sze, S. L., & Chan, A. S. (2016). Abnormal frontal theta oscillations underlie the cognitive flexibility deficits in children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychology, 30(3), 281–295. https://doi.org/10.1037/neu0000231.
This work was supported by NIH grants MH-106450 to Shaun M Eack, MH-85851 to Nancy J Minshew and Shaun M Eack, MH-95783 to Shaun M Eack, RR-24154 to Shaun M Eack, and HD-55748 to Nancy J Minshew, as well as grants from Autism Speaks 05381 to Nancy J Minshew and Shaun M Eack, the Department of Defense AR100344 to Nancy J Minshew and Shaun M Eack, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health SAP #4100047816 to Nancy J Minshew.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
This study was approved by an Institutional Review Board. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Haigh, S.M., Walsh, J.A., Mazefsky, C.A. et al. Processing Speed is Impaired in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Relates to Social Communication Abilities. J Autism Dev Disord 48, 2653–2662 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3515-z
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Information processing
- Speed of processing