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Abstract

Atypical perception in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is well documented (Dakin & Frith, 2005). However, relatively little is known about colour perception in ASD. Less accurate performance on certain colour tasks has led some to argue that chromatic discrimination is reduced in ASD relative to typical development (Franklin, Sowden, Burley, Notman & Alder, 2008). The current investigation assessed chromatic discrimination in children with high-functioning autism (HFA) and typically developing (TD) children matched on age and non-verbal cognitive ability, using the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 hue test (Experiment 1) and a threshold discrimination task (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, more errors on the chromatic discrimination task were made by the HFA than the TD group. Comparison with test norms revealed that performance for the HFA group was at a similar level to typically developing children around 3 years younger. In Experiment 2, chromatic thresholds were elevated for the HFA group relative to the TD group. For both experiments, reduced chromatic discrimination in ASD was due to a general reduction in chromatic sensitivity rather than a specific difficulty with either red–green or blue–yellow subsystems of colour vision. The absence of group differences on control tasks ruled out an explanation in terms of general task ability rather than chromatic sensitivity. Theories to account for the reduction in chromatic discrimination in HFA are discussed, and findings are related to cortical models of perceptual processing in ASD.