Being able to manage reputation is an important social skill, but it is unclear whether autistic children can manage reputation. This study investigated whether 33 autistic children matched to 33 typical children could implicitly or explicitly manage reputation. Further, we examined whether cognitive processes—theory of mind, social motivation, inhibitory control and reciprocity—contribute to reputation management. Results showed that neither group implicitly managed reputation, and there was no group difference in explicit reputation management. Results suggested different mechanisms contribute to reputation management in these groups—social motivation in typical children and reciprocity in autistic children. Explicit reputation management is achievable for autistic children, and there are individual differences in its relationship to underlying cognitive processes.
Autism; Reputation management; Theory of mind; Social motivation; Inhibitory control; Reciprocity
Drawing tasks are frequently used to test competing theories of visuospatial skills in autism. Yet, methodological differences between studies have led to inconsistent findings. To distinguish between accounts based on local bias or global deficit, we present a simple task that has previously revealed dissociable local/global impairments in neuropsychological patients. Autistic and typical children copied corner elements, arranged in a square configuration. Grouping cues were manipulated to test whether global properties affected the accuracy of reproduction. All children were similarly affected by these manipulations. There was no group difference in the reproduction of local elements, although global accuracy was negatively related to better local processing for autistic children. These data speak against influential theories of visuospatial differences in autism.
Autism; Drawing; Global; Local; Coherence; Grouping
Central tendency, the tendency of judgements of quantities (lengths, durations etc.) to gravitate towards their mean, is one of the most robust perceptual effects. A Bayesian account has recently suggested that central tendency reflects the integration of noisy sensory estimates with prior knowledge representations of a mean stimulus, serving to improve performance. The process is flexible, so prior knowledge is weighted more heavily when sensory estimates are imprecise, requiring more integration to reduce noise. In this study we measure central tendency in autism to evaluate a recent theoretical hypothesis suggesting that autistic perception relies less on prior knowledge representations than typical perception. If true, autistic children should show reduced central tendency than theoretically predicted from their temporal resolution. We tested autistic and age- and ability-matched typical children in two child-friendly tasks: (1) a time interval reproduction task, measuring central tendency in the temporal domain; and (2) a time discrimination task, assessing temporal resolution. Central tendency reduced with age in typical development, while temporal resolution improved. Autistic children performed far worse in temporal discrimination than the matched controls. Computational simulations suggested that central tendency was much less in autistic children than predicted by theoretical modelling, given their poor temporal resolution.
Although children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show atypical sensory processing, evidence for impaired integration of multisensory information has been mixed. In this study, we took a Bayesian model‐based approach to assess within‐modality integration of congruent and incongruent texture and disparity cues to judge slant in typical and autistic adolescents. Human adults optimally combine multiple sources of sensory information to reduce perceptual variance but in typical development this ability to integrate cues does not develop until late childhood. While adults cannot help but integrate cues, even when they are incongruent, young children's ability to keep cues separate gives them an advantage in discriminating incongruent stimuli. Given that mature cue integration emerges in later childhood, we hypothesized that typical adolescents would show adult‐like integration, combining both congruent and incongruent cues. For the ASD group there were three possible predictions (1) “no fusion”: no integration of congruent or incongruent cues, like 6‐year‐old typical children; (2) “mandatory fusion”: integration of congruent and incongruent cues, like typical adults; (3) “selective fusion”: cues are combined when congruent but not incongruent, consistent with predictions of Enhanced Perceptual Functioning (EPF) theory. As hypothesized, typical adolescents showed significant integration of both congruent and incongruent cues. The ASD group showed results consistent with “selective fusion,” integrating congruent but not incongruent cues. This allowed adolescents with ASD to make perceptual judgments which typical adolescents could not. In line with EPF, results suggest that perception in ASD may be more flexible and less governed by mandatory top‐down feedback. Autism Res
2016, 9: 272–281. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
autism; adolescent; vision; depth perception; cue integration; fusion
•We examined the ability to recognise the same face across varying images.•Participants were given 40 photographs of two distinct identities and asked to sort them by identity.•Children divided images into more perceived identities than adults.•Children with autism performed similarly to typically developing children.•Within-person face recognition is a considerable challenge for children with and without autism.
Unfamiliar face recognition follows a particularly protracted developmental trajectory and is more likely to be atypical in children with autism than those without autism. There is a paucity of research, however, examining the ability to recognize the same face across multiple naturally varying images. Here, we investigated within-person face recognition in children with and without autism. In Experiment 1, typically developing 6- and 7-year-olds, 8- and 9-year-olds, 10- and 11-year-olds, 12- to 14-year-olds, and adults were given 40 grayscale photographs of two distinct male identities (20 of each face taken at different ages, from different angles, and in different lighting conditions) and were asked to sort them by identity. Children mistook images of the same person as images of different people, subdividing each individual into many perceived identities. Younger children divided images into more perceived identities than adults and also made more misidentification errors (placing two different identities together in the same group) than older children and adults. In Experiment 2, we used the same procedure with 32 cognitively able children with autism. Autistic children reported a similar number of identities and made similar numbers of misidentification errors to a group of typical children of similar age and ability. Fine-grained analysis using matrices revealed marginal group differences in overall performance. We suggest that the immature performance in typical and autistic children could arise from problems extracting the perceptual commonalities from different images of the same person and building stable representations of facial identity.
Face perception; Face recognition; Autism; Identity; Children; Development
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by difficulties in social cognition, but are also associated with atypicalities in sensory and perceptual processing. Several groups have reported that autistic individuals show reduced integration of socially relevant audiovisual signals, which may contribute to the higher-order social and cognitive difficulties observed in autism. Here we use a newly devised technique to study instantaneous adaptation to audiovisual asynchrony in autism. Autistic and typical participants were presented with sequences of brief visual and auditory stimuli, varying in asynchrony over a wide range, from 512 ms auditory-lead to 512 ms auditory-lag, and judged whether they seemed to be synchronous. Typical adults showed strong adaptation effects, with trials proceeded by an auditory-lead needing more auditory-lead to seem simultaneous, and vice versa. However, autistic observers showed little or no adaptation, although their simultaneity curves were as narrow as the typical adults. This result supports recent Bayesian models that predict reduced adaptation effects in autism. As rapid audiovisual recalibration may be fundamental for the optimisation of speech comprehension, recalibration problems could render language processing more difficult in autistic individuals, hindering social communication.
Guided by a recent theory that proposes fundamental differences in how autistic individuals deal with uncertainty, we investigated the extent to which the cognitive construct ‘intolerance of uncertainty’ and anxiety were related to parental reports of sensory sensitivities in 64 autistic and 85 typically developing children aged 6–14 years. Intolerance of uncertainty and anxiety explained approximately half the variance in autistic children’s sensory sensitivities, but only around a fifth of the variance in typical children’s sensory sensitivities. In children with autism only, intolerance of uncertainty remained a significant predictor of children’s sensory sensitivities once the effects of anxiety were adjusted for. Our results suggest intolerance of uncertainty is a relevant construct to sensory sensitivities in children with and without autism.
Sensory sensitivities; Anxiety; Intolerance of uncertainty
This mixed-methods study examined gender differences in the social motivation and friendship experiences of adolescent boys and girls with autism relative to those without autism, all educated within special education settings. Autistic girls showed similar social motivation and friendship quality to non-autistic girls, while autistic boys reported having both qualitatively different friendships and less motivation for social contact relative to boys without autism and to girls with and without autism. Semi-structured interviews with the adolescents corroborated these findings, with one exception: autistic girls reported high levels of relational aggression within their friendships, suggesting that girls on the autism spectrum in particular may struggle with identifying and dealing with conflict in their social lives.
Autism; Gender; Girls; Friendship; Peer relationships; Social motivation
To judge the overall direction of a shoal of fish or a crowd of people, observers must integrate motion signals across space and time. The limits on our ability to pool motion have largely been established using the motion coherence paradigm, in which observers report the direction of coherently moving dots amid randomly moving noise dots. Poor performance by autistic individuals on this task has widely been interpreted as evidence of disrupted integrative processes. Critically, however, motion coherence thresholds are not necessarily limited only by pooling. They could also be limited by imprecision in estimating the direction of individual elements or by difficulties segregating signal from noise. Here, 33 children with autism 6–13 years of age and 33 age- and ability-matched typical children performed a more robust task reporting mean dot direction both in the presence and the absence of directional variability alongside a standard motion coherence task. Children with autism were just as sensitive to directional differences as typical children when all elements moved in the same direction (no variability). However, remarkably, children with autism were more sensitive to the average direction in the presence of directional variability, providing the first evidence of enhanced motion integration in autism. Despite this improved averaging ability, children with autism performed comparably to typical children in the motion coherence task, suggesting that their motion coherence thresholds may be limited by reduced segregation of signal from noise. Although potentially advantageous under some conditions, increased integration may lead to feelings of “sensory overload” in children with autism.
autism; developmental disorders; motion perception
A recent study showed that adaptation to causal events (collisions) in adults caused subsequent events to be less likely perceived as causal. In this study, we examined if a similar negative adaptation effect for perceptual causality occurs in children, both typically developing and with autism. Previous studies have reported diminished adaptation for face identity, facial configuration and gaze direction in children with autism. To test whether diminished adaptive coding extends beyond high-level social stimuli (such as faces) and could be a general property of autistic perception, we developed a child-friendly paradigm for adaptation of perceptual causality. We compared the performance of 22 children with autism with 22 typically developing children, individually matched on age and ability (IQ scores). We found significant and equally robust adaptation aftereffects for perceptual causality in both groups. There were also no differences between the two groups in their attention, as revealed by reaction times and accuracy in a change-detection task. These findings suggest that adaptation to perceptual causality in autism is largely similar to typical development and, further, that diminished adaptive coding might not be a general characteristic of autism at low levels of the perceptual hierarchy, constraining existing theories of adaptation in autism.
There has been a substantial increase in research activity on autism during the past decade. Research into effective ways of responding to the immediate needs of autistic people is, however, less advanced, as are efforts at translating basic science research into service provision. Involving community members in research is one potential way of reducing this gap. This study therefore investigated the views of community involvement in autism research both from the perspectives of autism researchers and of community members, including autistic adults, family members and practitioners. Results from a large-scale questionnaire study (n = 1,516) showed that researchers perceive themselves to be engaged with the autism community but that community members, most notably autistic people and their families, did not share this view. Focus groups/interviews with 72 participants further identified the potential benefits and remaining challenges to involvement in research, especially regarding the distinct perspectives of different stakeholders. Researchers were skeptical about the possibilities of dramatically increasing community engagement, while community members themselves spoke about the challenges to fully understanding and influencing the research process. We suggest that the lack of a shared approach to community engagement in UK autism research represents a key roadblock to translational endeavors.
•Motion processing abilities develop gradually through childhood.•This lengthy development could be due to local noise and/or poor averaging.•5–11-year-olds and adults performed equivalent noise and motion coherence tasks.•Through childhood, internal noise reduces and averaging increases.•Yet, only improved averaging explains developments in motion coherence sensitivity.
The development of motion processing is a critical part of visual development, allowing children to interact with moving objects and navigate within a dynamic environment. However, global motion processing, which requires pooling motion information across space, develops late, reaching adult-like levels only by mid-to-late childhood. The reasons underlying this protracted development are not yet fully understood. In this study, we sought to determine whether the development of motion coherence sensitivity is limited by internal noise (i.e., imprecision in estimating the directions of individual elements) and/or global pooling across local estimates. To this end, we presented equivalent noise direction discrimination tasks and motion coherence tasks at both slow (1.5°/s) and fast (6°/s) speeds to children aged 5, 7, 9 and 11 years, and adults. We show that, as children get older, their levels of internal noise reduce, and they are able to average across more local motion estimates. Regression analyses indicated, however, that age-related improvements in coherent motion perception are driven solely by improvements in averaging and not by reductions in internal noise. Our results suggest that the development of coherent motion sensitivity is primarily limited by developmental changes within brain regions involved in integrating motion signals (e.g., MT/V5).
Visual development; Motion processing; Direction discrimination
This study aimed to determine why face identity aftereffects are diminished in children with autism, relative to typical children. To address the possibility that reduced face aftereffects might reflect reduced attention to adapting stimuli, we investigated the consequence of controlling attention to adapting faces during a face identity aftereffect task in children with autism and typical children. We also included a size-change between adaptation and test stimuli to determine whether the reduced aftereffects reflect atypical adaptation to low- or higher-level stimulus properties. Results indicated that when attention was controlled and directed towards adapting stimuli, face identity aftereffects in children with autism were significantly reduced relative to typical children. This finding challenges the notion that atypicalities in the quality and/or quantity of children’s attention during adaptation might account for group differences previously observed in this paradigm. Additionally, evidence of diminished face identity aftereffects despite a stimulus size change supports an adaptive processing atypicality in autism that extends beyond low-level, retinotopically coded stimulus properties. These findings support the notion that diminished face aftereffects in autism reflect atypicalities in adaptive norm-based coding, which could also contribute to face processing difficulties in this group.
According to one influential account, face processing atypicalities in autism reflect reduced reward value of faces, which results in limited attention to faces during development and a consequent failure to acquire face expertise. Surprisingly, however, there is a paucity of work directly investigating the reward value of faces for individuals with autism and the evidence for diminished face rewards in this population remains equivocal. In the current study, we measured how hard children with autism would work to view faces, using an effortful key-press sequence, and whether they were sensitive to the differential reward value of attractive and unattractive faces. Contrary to expectations, cognitively able children with autism did not differ from typically developing children of similar age and ability in their willingness to work to view faces. Moreover, the effort expended was strongly positively correlated with facial attractiveness ratings in both groups of children. There was also no evidence of atypical reward values for other, less social categories (cars and inverted faces) in the children with autism. These results speak against the possibility that face recognition difficulties in autism are explained by atypical reward value of faces.
Perceptual mechanisms are generally flexible or “adaptive”, as evidenced by perceptual aftereffects: distortions that arise following exposure to a stimulus. We examined whether adaptive mechanisms for coding gaze direction are atypical in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition. Twenty-four typical children and 24 children with autism, of similar age and ability, were administered a developmentally sensitive eye-gaze adaptation task. In the pre-adaptation phase, children judged whether target faces showing subtle deviations in eye-gaze direction were looking leftwards, rightwards or straight-ahead. Next, children were adapted to faces gazing in one consistent direction (25° leftwards/rightwards) before categorising the direction of the target faces again. Children with autism showed difficulties in judging whether subtle deviations in gaze were directed to the left, right or straight-ahead relative to typical children. Although adaptation to leftward or rightward gaze resulted in reduced sensitivity to gaze on the adapted side for both groups, the aftereffect was significantly reduced in children with autism. Furthermore, the magnitude of children's gaze aftereffects was positively related to their ability to categorise gaze direction. These results show that the mechanisms coding gaze are less flexible in autism and offer a potential new explanation for these children's difficulties discriminating subtle deviations in gaze direction.
•Adaptive mechanisms are fundamental for perceptual coding.•We found adaptation to gaze direction was significantly attenuated in autism.•The degree of adaptation was also linked to children's gaze acuity.•This study provides potential evidence for the functional benefits of adaptation.
Autism; Gaze; Adaptation; Aftereffect; Vision
Autism is a common and often highly debilitating neurodevelopmental condition, whose core behavioral features are believed to be rooted in disrupted neurocognitive processes, including especially “executive function.” Researchers have predominantly focused upon understanding the putative causal relationship between difficulties in EF and autistic symptomatology. This paper suggests, however, that the effects of individual differences in EF should be more far-reaching, playing a significant part in the real-life outcomes of individuals with autism, including their social competence, everyday adaptive behavior, and academic achievement. It further considers the nature of the EF-outcome relationship, including the possible determinants of individual differences in EF, and makes several recommendations for future research.
The rise in the measured prevalence of autism has been accompanied by much new research and research investment internationally. This study sought to establish whether the pattern of current UK autism research funding maps on to the concerns of the autism community. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with autistic adults, family members, practitioners and researchers to identify their priorities for research. We also captured the views of a large number of stakeholders via an online survey. There was a clear disparity between the United Kingdom’s pattern of funding for autism research and the priorities articulated by the majority of participants. There was general consensus that future priorities for autism research should lie in those areas that make a difference to people’s day-to-day lives. There needs to be greater involvement of the autism community both in priority setting and in research more broadly to ensure that resources reach where they are most needed and can make the most impact.
autism community; autism research; decision-making; priority setting