Development of perceptual processing in autism
University of Pittsburgh
Individuals with autism show the tendency to visually focus on individual elements in a scene, possibly at the expense of encoding the entire situation. To investigate the idea that people with autism focus on each element in a scene individually rather than processing multiple elements simultaneously, areas of the brain will be monitored during different visual processing tasks. This will be done in two ways: First, the ability to see and configure multiple, randomly located elements. Second, the ability to track multiple objects at the same time will be monitored. In addition to visual processing ability, the function of areas of the brain that contribute to this ability (specifically the occipital lobe) will be examined using fMRI technology. In order to characterize the developmental trajectory of perceptual development in autism, multiple age groups will be assessed on both tasks. This will be done to probe the integrity of neurodevelopmental processes, and to provide insight regarding the timing of intervention. Significance: A better characterization of basic visual processing in autism, including the development of these abilities and their neural substrates, has the potential to help a wide-range of people with autism spectrum disorders. This knowledge is crucial to designing useful visual interventions, providing compensatory strategies that may help people with autism spectrum disorders process visual stimuli across domains.