Individuals with ASD May Have Impaired Predictive Ability

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently created a hypothesis stating that individuals with autism may lack the ability to predict what may happen next, which therefore creates difficulty in understanding the events occurring around them.

Richard Held, along with his colleagues at MIT, have discussed the fact that individuals on the spectrum may have difficulty in predicting future events, with an impaired predictive ability explaining many symptoms of autism. This new study is currently appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although traits of autism are incredibly diverse, Held and his colleagues wanted to see if any of these traits had a common cause. By analyzing their previous research and looking at first-hand accounts, they were able to determine that certain traits associated with autism disorders may be manifestations of an impaired ability to predict or understand the events that are about to occur. For instance, although the world is ever-changing, many individuals on the autism spectrum find it difficult to adapt to change, and therefore engage in repetitive behaviors, and are most comfortable sticking to a strict schedule, in order to create a feeling of “sameness”.

According to the researchers at MIT, another indicator of impaired predictive ability is the extreme hypersensitivity to stimuli that individuals on the spectrum often possess. Held and his team believe that people with autism never familiarize themselves to stimuli. Therefore, it is difficult to be able to predict a certain stimulus that one does not familiarize themselves with.

Furthermore, impaired predictive ability may also explain why some individuals on the spectrum have difficulty with dynamic objects. For example, children on the spectrum may be overwhelmed in places like the playground, where there are children running around, throwing balls, and a lot of movement is taking place. An inability to process where an object in motion is headed can result in confusion or fear. Held’s study states that in order to interact successfully with a moving object, you need to be able to have a sense of where it is headed, and to plan your motor movements accordingly. Held and his team will be conducting further research to better understand the capabilities and deficits of those on the spectrum in processing what is about to occur.

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