|Colleen Gavin on Flickr|
Children with autism see movement differently than their neurotypical peers, according to recent research. In one study, autistic children detected movement twice as fast as their peers did. In another study, autistic children observed and processed motion faster than children without the disorder. This enhanced ability to integrate motion may explain the sensory problems many children with autism have.
“Such heightened sensory perception in autism may help explain why some people with the disorder are painfully sensitive to noise and bright lights. It also may be linked to some of the complex social and behavioral deficits associated with autism,” says Duje Tadin, a lead author and assistant professor at the University of Rochester.
In the second and more recent study, autistic children showed an “increased ability to pool motion information.” Problems ignoring irrelevant information hampered this ability. Study author Steven C Dakin explains:
The accepted view is that people with autism do local processing (the fine detail of the world), but they can’t do global processing (the overall context). For the first time we now have a way of separating these two functions in the lab. When we apply it to children with autism, we find they don’t have a global processing problem at all. If anything, they are better at global processing.
Colleen Gavin on Flickr
The assumption was that if you are bad at tasks that require pooling information it is because you can’t pool it. Now we think that what’s happening is that people with autism can’t ignore irrelevant information and that’s quite a different thing.
Dakin, a professor at the University of Auckland thinks this relates to sensory problems in children with autism. “That’s about your ability to resist noise, and so we think it’s related to sensory overload. Their sensory overload is an inability to resist the irrelevant,” says Professor Dakin.
|EME on Pixabay|
In the first study, a group of children with and without autism watched video clips of black and white moving bars. The children with autism perceived the motion much faster than those without autism. This hypersensitivity to motion may appear to be an advantage, but Dr. Carissa Cascio, assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, explains that it can cause problems.
If the processing of our vision, hearing, and other sensory systems is abnormal in some way, it will have a cascading effect on other brain functions. You may be able to see better, but at some point the brain really is over responding. A strong response to high intensity stimuli in autism could be one reason for withdrawal.
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Tadin also stated, “We think of autism as a social disorder because children with this condition often struggle with social interactions, but what we sometimes neglect is that almost everything we know about the world comes from our senses. Abnormalities in how a person sees or hears can have a profound effect on social communication.”
A Substantial and Unexpected Enhancement of Motion Perception in Autism and Enhanced Integration of Motion Information in Children With Autism are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.