In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom found that, contrary to popular belief, children with autism are actually able to perceive different kinds of motions, but are unable to tune out other distracting visuals, which makes them feel confused.
Scientists have long believed that the inability of individuals with autism to see the bigger picture in situations and their tendency to focus on the smaller pieces of the scene were the main reasons behind their motion perception problem, but researchers now suspect that the problem could be due to a faulty sensory filter, which could render them incapable of tuning out distractions. According to lead researcher and junior research fellow of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, Catherine Manning:
“Our findings teach us something new about how children with autism process information about what they see. This difference may help us to understand the sensory symptoms faced by some children with autism.”
The researchers used moving dots on a computer screen to test the perception of 33 children with autism and 33 typically developing ones, all aged six to 13 years old. The scientists were surprised to find out that the only time the children with autism had difficulties in perceiving the moving dots’ direction was when the test involved randomly moving dots that they were supposed to ignore.
“I always thought that people with autism focused on the details of things, with a reduced tendency to combine information together in order to see the overall picture.”
“Our results show that this isn’t always the case, at least for moving information.”
The scientists say their findings could explain why individuals with autism find it hard to make sense out of complicated situations. Manning added:
“In most [real-life] situations, there are also other objects that might be moving in different directions.”
Source: SFARI News: Charles Q. Choi:Leaky filter leads to motion perception problem in autism