Now, a new study suggests that two key attentional abilities — moving attention fluidly and orienting to social information — can be checked off the list, as neither seems to account for the diversity of symptoms we find in people with autism.
"This is not to say that every aspect of attention is fine in all children with autism — children with autism very often have attentional disorders as well," explain psychological scientists and lead researchers Jason Fischer and Kami Koldewyn of MIT. "However, our study suggests that attention impairments are not a key component of autism itself."
The study is published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Attention has long been targeted as a possible causal mechanism in autism research:
"Problems with attention early in life could have far-reaching consequences," say Fischer and Koldewyn. "For example, if young children with autism don't pay close attention to the behaviors of the people around them, they might never learn to read body language and other social cues."
But much of the previous research on attention, social learning, and autism had been mixed.
"Some of the most fundamental questions remain debated," Fischer and Koldewyn explain. "Our goal was to conduct careful, systematic, relatively large-scale studies of some of the mental processes most often implicated in autism to discover which of them are actually disrupted in autism and which are not."
To investigate this, Fischer, Koldewyn, and their team had children with high-functioning autism and children without autism complete an attention task while tracking their eye movements. Critically, the participants were matched on age and IQ before participating in the study to rule out the possible influence of global developmental delays that aren't specific to autism.
The task was intended to answer two questions: Are children with autism less able to reorient to a new stimulus (a plausible precursor of restricted interests)? And are children with autism slower to respond to social stimuli, such as faces?
Overall, children with and without autism showed clear signatures of shifting attention and orienting to social stimuli, but there was no difference in either ability between the two groups, challenging the hypothesis that impaired attention might be at the root of autism symptoms.
Fischer and Koldewyn underscore that these aren't simply null results — they do contribute in a meaningful way to our understanding of autism.
"Understanding which mental capacities are intact in autism is not only encouraging, but also helps families and educators design effective interventions to work on those cognitive skills that are true areas of weakness in autism."
While finding those true cognitive impairments, and their antecedents, has proved difficult, it's not for lack of effort.
"We believe that the crux of autism lies in a difficulty interpreting the nuanced and complex information present in real life social situations," Fischer and Koldewyn conclude. "We plan to test children with autism in more natural scenarios than the typical laboratory environment in order to understand how social context interacts with attentional abilities in autism."
Co-authors on this research include Nancy Kanwisher of MIT and Yuhong Jiang of the University of Minnesota.
This research was supported by the Ellison Medical Foundation, a grant from the Simons Foundation, and an award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
For more information about this study, please contact: Jason Fischer at email@example.com.
Clinical Psychological Science is APS's newest journal. For a copy of the article "Unimpaired Attentional Disengagement and Social Orienting in Children With Autism" and access to other Clinical Psychological Science research findings, please contact Lucy Hyde at 202-293-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucy Hyde | EurekAlert!
Biofilm discovery suggests new way to prevent dangerous infections
23.05.2017 | University of Texas at Austin
Another reason to exercise: Burning bone fat -- a key to better bone health
19.05.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2017 | Event News