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Elevated Levels of Atypical Handedness in Autism: Meta-Analyses

Abstract

An elevated prevalence of atypical handedness (left-, mixed-, or non-right-handedness) has been repeatedly reported in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to typically developing individuals. However, the exact magnitude of this difference as well as the presence of possible moderating factors remains unknown. Here, we present three sets of meta-analyses of studies that assessed the handedness prevalence among individuals with ASD, totaling 1199 individuals (n = 723 individuals with ASD and n = 476 typically developing individuals). Meta-analysis set 1 found that individuals with ASD are 3.48, 2.49, and 2.34 times more likely to be non-right-handed, left-handed, and mixed-handed compared to typically developing individuals, respectively. Meta-analysis set 2 found a 45.4%, 18.3%, and 36.1% prevalence of non-right-handedness, left-handedness, and mixed-handedness, respectively, amongst individuals with ASD. The classification of handedness, the instrument used to measure handedness, and the main purpose of the study were found to moderate the findings of meta-analysis set 2. Meta-analysis set 3 revealed a trend towards weaker handedness for individuals with ASD. The elevated levels of atypical handedness in individuals with ASD could be attributed to atypicalities in cerebral structure and lateralization for language in individuals with ASD.

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Notes

  1. A fourth meta-analysis calculating the mean differences in the degree of handedness in individuals with ASD only (without the presence of a control group, thus mirroring for continuous handedness what was done in meta-analysis 2 for categorical handedness) could not be performed as (i) there is no consensus in the literature as to what a mean degree of handedness in the general population is. Thus, any calculated value representing a mean degree of handedness would have nothing to be compared against, and (ii) mean scores of only one group cannot be transformed into standardized scores, which makes the calculation of a mean of scores that are reported in different scales, as is the case here, meaningless (in the case of meta-analysis set 2, all studies reported percentages, which could be averaged).

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Acknowledgments

We thank Peter Rosenberger, Sara Sharoun, Geraldine Dawson, Judith Rumsey, Ivanka Asenona, Anne Langseth Rysstad, David Mandelbaum, and Chris McManus for kindly responding to our requests of information.

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Correspondence to Marietta Papadatou-Pastou.

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Paraskevi Markou and Marietta Papadatou-Pastou contributed equally

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Markou, P., Ahtam, B. & Papadatou-Pastou, M. Elevated Levels of Atypical Handedness in Autism: Meta-Analyses. Neuropsychol Rev 27, 258–283 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-017-9354-4

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Keywords

  • autism
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • handedness
  • hand preference
  • degree of handedness
  • meta-analysis