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Autism speeds motion perception

Jun. 7, 2013, 8:00 AM

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Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are “markedly better” at perceiving the motion of certain objects than are typically developing children their age, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Rochester.

This finding, reported last month in the Journal of Neuroscience, supports the theory that an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neural mechanisms may explain the complex behavioral, social and cognitive deficits that define ASD.

Jennifer Foss-Feig, Carissa Cascio, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry, and colleagues studied the ability of children aged 8 to 17 with ASD to tell which direction briefly presented vertical lines moved across a computer screen. Children with ASD perceived the direction of motion of high-contrast gratings twice as fast as controls in the same age group. However, they were no faster in discriminating the motion of low-contrast gratings.

Further exploration of the sensory and perceptual differences that characterize ASD may help reveal its neural underpinnings, and could provide a platform for developing novel intervention strategies.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (EY001319, EY008126, EY001925, MH090232, RR024975). Foss-Feig was supported by an Autism Speaks Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship.

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