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A Perceptual–Motor Deficit Predicts Social and Communicative Impairments in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Authors


  • Grant sponsor: Jefferson Scholars Foundation; Grant number: James H. and Elizabeth W. Wright Endowed Fellowship (Matthew D. Lerner).
  • Grant sponsor: National Institute of Health; Grant number: RO1MH075781 (Dennis R. Proffitt).

Address for correspondence and reprints: Sally Linkenauger, Cognitive and Computational Psychophysics Department, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Postfach 21 69, D-72012 Tübingen. E-mail: sally.linkenauger@tuebingen.mpg.de

Abstract

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have known impairments in social and motor skills. Identifying putative underlying mechanisms of these impairments could lead to improved understanding of the etiology of core social/communicative deficits in ASDs, and identification of novel intervention targets. The ability to perceptually integrate one's physical capacities with one's environment (affordance perception) may be such a mechanism. This ability has been theorized to be impaired in ASDs, but this question has never been directly tested. Crucially, affordance perception has shown to be amenable to learning; thus, if it is implicated in deficits in ASDs, it may be a valuable unexplored intervention target. The present study compared affordance perception in adolescents and adults with ASDs to typically developing (TD) controls. Two groups of individuals (adolescents and adults) with ASDs and age-matched TD controls completed well-established action capability estimation tasks (reachability, graspability, and aperture passability). Their caregivers completed a measure of their lifetime social/communicative deficits. Compared with controls, individuals with ASDs showed unprecedented gross impairments in relating information about their bodies' action capabilities to visual information specifying the environment. The magnitude of these deficits strongly predicted the magnitude of social/communicative impairments in individuals with ASDs. Thus, social/communicative impairments in ASDs may derive, at least in part, from deficits in basic perceptual–motor processes (e.g. action capability estimation). Such deficits may impair the ability to maintain and calibrate the relationship between oneself and one's social and physical environments, and present fruitful, novel, and unexplored target for intervention. Autism Res 2012,5:352–362. © 2012 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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