December 24, 2010

Autistic Children Lack Visual Skills Needed for Independence

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ Being able to find shoes in a bedroom, apples in a grocery store, or a favorite animal at the zoo is impaired in children with autism, according to this study.

Previous studies have shown that children with autism usually demonstrate outstanding visual search skills, but this new research shows that autistic children are unable to search for objects in real-life situation- a necessary life skill.

Previous studies have tested search skills using table-top tasks or computers but none, until now, has tested how children with autism fare in a more true-to-life setting.

In a unique test room, 20 children with autism and 20 typical children of the same age and ability were instructed to press buttons on the floor to find a hidden target among multiple illuminated locations. Critically, these targets appeared more on one side of the room than the other.

Systematizing, an autism theory, states that these children are more sensitive to regularities within a system (for example, prime numbers, computer programs and train timetables). Surprisingly, more 'systematic' behavior was not observed in this test; children with autism were less efficient and more chaotic in their search. Compared to other children, they were slower to pick up on the regularities within the 'system' (e.g. which side of the room the lights could be found) that would help them choose where to search.

These results strongly suggest that autistic children's ability to search in a large-scale environment is less efficient and less systematic than typical children's search. This has important implications for how well children with autism can cope independently in the real world if they struggle to navigate and search within a local environment and identify patterns within it.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online December 24, 2010