New research published in the Journal of Neuroscience this April demonstrates how children with autism spectrum disorder perceive motion at twice the rate of typically developing children, suggesting that perception of motion may be responsible for autism symptoms such as painful sensitivity to noise and bright lights, as well as social, behavioral deficits. The study compared the motion perception processes of 20 children diagnosed with ASD with 26 typically developing children, with a population age range of 8 to 17. The subjects were made to watch videos of moving black and white bars and distinguish which direction the bars were sliding—left or right. When subjects indicated the correct direction the video clips were shortened to increase difficulty, and conversely if subjects answered incorrectly the clip duration was lengthened. The researchers adjusted the contrast of the bars, finding that when the distinction between bars was less visible the two groups performed identically. When the contrast was increased, both experimental groups performed better, but children with ASD performed significantly better. The worst performing child for the heightened contrast portion of the test, performed on par with the combined average of the typically developing study population. Researchers concluded that children with ASD perceive motion at approximately twice the rate of typically developing children. As stimulus size increases, typical observers perception is impaired, while autistics’ perception is improved.
Study author Jennifer Foss-Feig, a postdoctoral fellow at the Child Study Center at Yale University, suggests that the neurological responses of an autistic brain increase congruently with sensory stimulus, which can be advantageous until it is overwhelming. The researchers suggest that the pain and disturbance that autistics often experience with sensory dense situations—like crowded malls—may be attributed to this heightened perception of motion. Additionally, many of the social and behavioral symptoms of autism—like communicative ability and face recognition—could be understood through the lens of motion perception.
Foss-Feig, Jennifer H., Duge Tadin, Kimberly B. Schauder, and Carissa J. Cascio. “A Substantial and Unexpected Enhancement of Motion Perception in Autism.”Journal of Neuroscience 33.19 (2013): 8243-249. Http://www.jneurosci.org/. 8 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/19/8243.abstract?sid=24797967-4ff0-4f50-8b03-9b295b1c7dca>.
“Why Some Autistic Kids Are Painfully Sensitive to Noise and Bright Lights.” DNA. Www.dnaindia.com, 9 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2013. <http://www.dnaindia.com/health/1832630/report-why-some-autistic-kids-are-painfully-sensitive-to-noise-and-bright-lights>.