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Keywords:

  • Autistic disorder;
  • drawing;
  • executive function;
  • hierarchical processing;
  • neuro-psychology;
  • visual perception;
  • working memory

In the present study, copying tasks were used to assess hierarchical aspects of visual perception in a group of 10 nonsavant autistic individuals with normal intelligence. In Experiment 1, the hierarchical order of graphic construction and the constancy of this order were measured for the copying of objects and nonobjects. In comparison to control participants, autistic individuals produced more local features at the start of the copying. However, they did not differ from controls with respect to graphic constancy. Experiment 2 measured the effect of geometrical impossibility on the copying of figures. Results revealed that autistic individuals were less affected by figure impossibility than were controls. Therefore, these experiments seem to support the notion of a local bias for visual information processing in individuals with autism. Two interpretations are proposed to account for this effect. According to the hierarchical deficit hypothesis, individuals with autism do not manifest the normal global bias in perceiving scenes and objects. Alternatively, the executive function hypothesis suggests that autism brings about limitations in the complexity of information that can be manipulated in short-term visual memory during graphic planning.