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Processing Speed is Impaired in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Relates to Social Communication Abilities

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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.

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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.

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SMH wrote the manuscript and helped interpret the data. JAW conducted the study and analyzed the data. CAM and NJM helped with data interpretation and manuscript preparation. SME oversaw the study, helped analyze and interpret the data, and helped write the manuscript. All authors reviewed the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Sarah M. Haigh.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical Approval

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

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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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).

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