International Meeting for Autism Research: Relationship Between Performance on a Visual Search Task and Autistic Symptomology

Relationship Between Performance on a Visual Search Task and Autistic Symptomology

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
11:00 AM
K. Armstrong1, J. McDonald1 and G. Iarocci2, (1)Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada, (2)Psychology , Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Background: Although not currently included in the DSM IV-TR criteria for diagnosis, there is some evidence that aspects of perception and visual attention are abnormal in ASD. Specifically, people with ASD perform better than typically developing people on visual tasks that require attention to detail, such as visual search tasks (O’Riordan et al., 2001). There is also evidence of a relationship between superior visual search ability and inferior social skills in ASD (Joseph et al., 2009) indicating visual search abilities in ASD may be related to some ASD symptoms more than others. Furthermore, studies on visual processes have tended to focus on differences between people with ASD and the typical population, rather than on differences within the ASD group itself, which are also important to examine.

Objectives: To investigate whether there is a relationship between visual search performance and social deficits among adolescents with autism. This could help identify a link that could be explored further to understand why social skills are so impaired in autism, if these domains were found to be. This study hypothesizes that superior performance on visual search tasks will be significantly related to social deficits as indexed by parent ratings.

Methods: Forty adolescents with ASD aged 12-17 will be given a conjunctive visual search task in which they are asked to identify whether a target stimulus (red X) is present or absent amongst an array of highly similar stimuli (red T’s and green X’s) with display sizes consisting of 5, 15 and 25 elements. Their parent will complete the AQ-Adolescent which is a 50-item parent questionnaire measuring the number of autistic traits in five symptom domains (social skills, attention switching, attention to detail, communication and imagination), with higher scores reflecting more autistic-like symptoms.

Results: A regression analysis will be performed with the five AQ domains as factors to determine whether any of the symptom domains of ASD are underlying visual processing performance. The outcome measure will be performance on the conjunctive visual search task measured by slope in milliseconds (the amount of time taken to search per element in the display), with lower scores reflecting better performance. Preliminary results (N=11) revealed a relationship between poorer social skills as measured by the AQ and better performance on the visual search task. They also revealed a relationship between better attention to detail, and poorer imagination, with better performance on the search task.

Conclusions: Consistent with previous research (Joseph et al., 2009), the preliminary analysis of this study suggests that there is a relationship between poorer social skills and better performance on a conjunctive visual search task. It is expected that because this finding is consistent with previous research the results will hold once all forty participants have been tested. These findings indicate that there may be a connection between social processing and perceptual processing in autism, but further research will be conducted to investigate the nature of this relationship.

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