Superior Visual Search and Crowding Abilities Are Not Characteristic of All Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often excel on visual search and crowding tasks; however, inconsistent findings suggest that this ‘islet of ability’ may not be characteristic of the entire spectrum. We examined whether performance on these tasks changed as a function of motor proficiency in children with varying levels of ASD symptomology. Children with high ASD symptomology outperformed all others on complex visual search tasks, but only if their motor skills were rated at, or above, age expectations. For the visual crowding task, children with high ASD symptomology and superior motor skills exhibited enhanced target discrimination, whereas those with high ASD symptomology but poor motor skills experienced deficits. These findings may resolve some of the discrepancies in the literature.
KeywordsAutism Attention Enhanced perception Visual search Crowding Motor skills
We would like to thank our participants and their families for kindly offering to participate in this study. We are also grateful to the paediatricians at Melbourne Children’s Clinic for assisting with recruitment. This paper has been prepared as part of a doctoral thesis.
EL and JF designed the study. NR advised on participant-related processes and assisted EL with recruitment. EL collected the data and performed data analysis. All authors were involved in manuscript drafting and approved the final manuscript.
The work was supported by doctoral research funding from the School of Psychological Sciences and Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, 3800, Australia.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
NR has received funding from the Ferrero Group, Australia and Moose Toys. Ferrero Group, Australia and Moose Toys had no role in this research including the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in writing of the manuscript; and in the decision to submit the article for publication. NR has received speaker honorarium from Novartis (2002), Pfzier (2006) and Nutricia (2007). JF has also received research grants for Novartis (2015) and Sanofi-Genzyme (2017). NR is a Director of the Amaze Board (Autism Victoria). EL, NR and JF each declares that she has no conflict of interest.
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.
- Almeida, R. A., Dickinson, J. E., Maybery, M. T., Badcock, J. C., & Badcock, D. R. (2013). Visual search targeting either local or global perceptual processes differs as a function of autistic-like traits in the typically developing population. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 1272–1286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- APA (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
- Asperger, H. (1938). Das psychisch abnorme Kind. Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, 49, 1314–1317.Google Scholar
- Blaser, E., Eglington, L., Carter, A. S., & Kaldy, Z. (2014). Pupillometry reveals a mechanism for the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) advantage in visual tasks. Nature Scientific Reports, 4, 1–5.Google Scholar
- Blaser, E., Eglington, L., & Kaldy, Z. (2012) Toddlers with ASD are better at visual search without trying harder: A pupillometric study. In Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, Naples, FL, 2012.Google Scholar
- Conners, K. C. (2008). Conners (3rd ed.). Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
- Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2012). Social responsiveness scale-second edition (SRS-2). Torrance, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
- Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: The Guildford Press.Google Scholar
- Henderson, S. E., Sugden, D. A., & Barnett, A. L. (2007). Movement assessment battery for children-2: Movement ABC-2: Examiner’s manual. São Paulo: Pearson.Google Scholar
- Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217–250.Google Scholar
- Levy, S. E., Giarelli, E., Lee, L.-C., Schieve, L. A., Kirby, R. S., Cunniff, C., et al. (2010). Autism spectrum disorder and co-occurring developmental, psychiatric, and medical conditions among children in multiple populations of the United States. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 31, 267–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Rinehart, N. J., Bellgrove, M. A., Tonge, B. J., Brereton, A. V., Howells-Rankin, D., & Bradshaw, J. L. (2006a). An examination of movement kinematics in young people with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder: Further evidence for a motor planning deficit. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(6), 757–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sattler, J. M., & Dumont, R. (2004). Assessment of children: WISC-IV and WPPSI-III supplement. San Diego: Sattler.Google Scholar