Lay abstracts

Externalizing and Internalizing Behaviors in ASD

Nirit Bauminger, Marjorie Solomon, and Sally J. Rogers


Despite the fact that social functioning is a recognizable major area of difficulty for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), even those at higher functioning levels, little research has examined individual differences in the development of social competence among this heterogeneous population. The current study comparing children aged 8–12 years with ASD versus those with typical development investigated known behavioral predictors of typical children's social competence, both internalizing (e.g., depression, withdrawal) and externalizing (e.g., aggression, delinquency), as related to the family variables of parental stress and quality of attachment relations. Given previous research findings, we expected and found higher rates of externalizing and internalizing behaviors in children with ASD compared to typically developing children. Also as expected, parental stress level was higher in mothers of children with ASD than in mothers of typically developing children. Parenting stress emerged as an important variable contributing to the understanding of internalizing and externalizing behaviors in both children with ASD and with typical development. Results are interpreted in light of the similar relationship between parenting stress and child psychopathology for typically developing children and those with ASD. © 2010 INSAR/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Article citation:Autism Res2010, 3: 101–112. DOI: 10.1002/aur.131

Susceptibility to the Shepard Illusion in Participants with Autism: Reduced Top-Down Influences Within Perception?

Peter Mitchell, Laurent Mottron, Isabelle Soulières, and Danielle Ropar


Several studies report that some individuals with autism have heightened ability to perceive the world accurately and literally, meaning that they see the world as it is rather than as they think it is. Previous research has found mixed results on whether this distinctive feature of perception in autism allows people with the disorder immunity against classic visual illusions, in which perception is distorted by knowledge. The research that led up to the current study suggests that individuals with autism might be less susceptible to illusions that arise from perceiving a 2-D line drawing when one knows it is actually the representation of a 3-D object. An example is the Shepard illusion and in the current research we compared susceptibility to this illusion in participants with and without autism. Those without autism experienced the illusion more strongly than those with autism, which is consistent with our prediction that individuals with autism perceive the world more accurately. It seems that participants without autism cannot help but perceive certain line drawings as if they are 3-D objects, which leads to perceptual distortion. People with autism, in contrast, might not be so strongly compelled to perceive these 2-D drawings as 3-D objects. © 2010 INSAR/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Article citation:Autism Res2010, 3: 113–119. DOI: 10.1002/aur.130

Association Between Depression and Anxiety in High-Functioning Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Maternal Mood Symptoms

Carla A. Mazefsky, Caitlin M. Conner, and Donald P. Oswald


Research suggests that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and their relatives have high rates of depression and anxiety. However, the majority of these studies looked at either parents or their children with ASD, rather then assessing psychiatric symptoms in both of them at the same time. This study examined the potential relationship between maternal mood symptoms and depression and anxiety in their children with ASD. Participants were 31 10- to 17-year-old children with an ASD diagnosis that was supported by gold-standard measures and their biological mothers. Mothers completed the Autism Comorbidity Interview to determine whether the child with ASD met criteria for any depressive or anxiety diagnoses and a questionnaire of their own current mood symptoms. As expected, many children with ASD met criteria for depressive (32%) and anxiety disorders (39%) at some point in their lives. The average level of maternal mood symptoms was in the normal range, but scores markedly varied. Approximately 75% of the children with ASD could be correctly classified as having a depressive or anxiety disorder history or not based on patterns of mothers' symptoms. The results provide preliminary evidence that maternal mood symptoms may be related to depression and anxiety in their children with ASD. An increased knowledge of associated psychiatric disorders in ASD and potential risk factors could lead to the development of prevention measures, and earlier and more effective treatment for those affected. © 2010 INSAR/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Article citation:Autism Res2010, 3: 120–127. DOI: 10.1002/aur.133

Object-Based Attention Benefits Reveal Selective Abnormalities of Visual Integration in Autism

Christine M. Falter, Kate C. Plaisted Grant, and Greg Davis


Organising principles help the human visual system to identify structure in the environment. These principles influence how elements or objects are grouped together into coherent units. In the current study we test the use of two typical organising principles in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), those of similarity and proximity. According to these principles, objects can either be grouped by how similar they are (e.g., in colour) or by how closely they are located in space. These two integration principles can work together or against each other (e.g., two objects could be located close to each other but have different colours). We assessed the strength of influence of the two grouping principles on visual organisation by measuring the speed and the accuracy with which children with ASD could discriminate simple visual features which were either part of objects which were close in space or which were similar in colour. The results of the current study provide evidence that children with autism spectrum disorder show comparable grouping by proximity to a typically-developing control group, but impaired grouping by colour similarity. Hence, we conclude that autism spectrum disorder is characterised by a selective impairment of visual organisation rather than by a general integration deficit. © 2010 INSAR/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Article citation:Autism Res2010, 3: 128–136. DOI: 10.1002/aur.134

Confirmation Study of PTEN Mutations Among Individuals with Autism or Developmental Delays/Mental Retardation and Macrocephaly

Kim L. McBride, Elizabeth A. Varga, Matthew T. Pastore, Thomas W. Prior, Kandamurugu Manickam, Joan F. Atkin, and Gail E. Herman


Genetics plays a large role in the cause of autism. For any given person with autism, the chance of finding a specific genetic change is only a few percent, but collectively, a known genetic cause can be found in up to 15% of all cases. We found previously that individuals who had autism or developmental delays/mental retardation, combined with a large head size, often had changes in a gene called PTEN. Mutations in this gene cause specific syndromes consisting of certain skin tumors, higher risk for early onset cancer and large head size (called Cowden syndrome) or developmental delays/mental retardation, skin tumors, and large head size (called Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome). We collected information on individuals with autism or developmental delays/mental retardation and large head size, none with a previous diagnosis of a syndrome, who had PTEN gene testing at our institution. In this study, we confirmed our previous findings, again identifying PTEN mutations in 5–10% of these individuals, and noted large head sizes, mental retardation and earlier onset cancers in some of their relatives. Combining families from this and our previous study, we found that all relatives with these problems who were tested had a PTEN mutation, some relatives who did not have any of these problems also had PTEN mutations. We recommend testing for mutations in PTEN for individuals with autism, developmental delays/mental retardation, and large head size. If mutations are found, other family members should be offered testing and the adults offered cancer screening if they have a PTEN mutation. © 2010 INSAR/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Article citation:Autism Res2010, 3: 137–141. DOI: 10.1002/aur.132