Perception and production of complex movement variability in children with autism
University of Nebraska, Omaha
Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship
This study seeks to investigate children's perception of the complex variability that is expressed in biologically sourced movements. Specifically, it will be determined if differences exist for this behavior between typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The case is presented that a deficit on this fundamental ability to detect complex variability lies at the source of the inability of children with autism to properly identify biological motion. It is perhaps this lack of identification of biological source motion that leads to the more general behavioral dysfunction that is characteristic of children with ASD. Measuring both eye movements and postural adjustments in response to the oscillations of a point-light display will yield information about the abilities of these children for the perception of complex motion and the incorporation of this information into motor output. The determination of a common deficit in the perception and production of motion which contains biologically relevant complex temporal variability will serve to propel further investigations into the neurophysiologic mechanism driving this deficit. Identifying perceptual-motor correlates of vision and posture in children with and without autism may allow for 1) a greater understanding of the process of sensorimotor integration, 2) the development of an early detection paradigm for autism, and 3) the advancement of foundational knowledge from which treatments for autism may be developed. This project also sets the stage for future investigations which will be directed at very early identification of risk for autism, as well as the establishment of early diagnosis criterion. Simple therapeutic approaches to promote the development of sensorimotor coordination, supported by direct empirical evidence, will certainly prove beneficial to all children, holding considerable promise for significantly improving the lives of persons with autism.