The Relationship Between Interpersonal Synchrony and Social Attention during Rhythmic Inter-Limb Coordination Tasks in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have significant social impairments such as reduced social attention/monitoring and eye contact (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). This will affect their ability to learn everyday activities through observational learning. In addition, motor coordination impairments observed in children with ASD will affect their ability to synchronize and keep up with others subsequently contributing to their social disconnect (Bhat, Landa, Galloway, 2011). To date, no study has examined the relationship between the direction of social gaze and interpersonal synchrony (IPS) in children with ASD.
In this study, we aimed to compare the direction of social gaze and IPS between children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children during various simple (dual-limb, clap, march, alternate drumming) and complex (multilimb, march-clap and asymmetrical drumming) coordinated rhythmic actions performed with a social partner.
11 children with ASD and 12 age- and gender-matched TD children between 4 and 12 years of age were observed in a dyadic context during simple and complex rhythmic actions of clapping, marching, and drumming. Children were asked to perform these activities while synchronizing their movements with an adult social partner and a metronome beat. During these activities we recorded the visual field of the child by placing a wide-angle camera on the forehead to record gaze direction. Gaze direction was coded as looking at the upper or lower body of the social partner or away within the central visual field of the child. IPS was coded as the proportion of total time the child was in, opposite, or out of synchrony with the social partner.
We found that children with ASD spent more time looking away (14.43±15.37) compared to TD children (3.22±6.31) indicating deficits in sustained social monitoring. Moreover, children with ASD (drum: 61.16 ± 38.64, march: 87.83 ± 13.84, clap: 63.95 ± 28.28) were less synchronous in their movements with the social partner compared to the TD children (drum: 97.12 ± 14.5, march: 98.32 ± 5.92, clap: 95.52 ± 6.90). In both groups, leg motions (Complex march: 91.66 ± 13.63, Simple march: 94.62 ± 9.12) were more synchronous than arm motions (Complex clap: 79.65 ± 23.73, Simple clap: 80.33 ± 27.26). Lastly, during the simple actions both groups attended to the task-relevant limbs i.e.; lower-limb during marching or upper limb during clapping. However, during complex multilimb actions, both groups appear to simplify their perceptual information by primarily focusing on the clapping hands than the marching feet.
Our results show how social monitoring impairments may contribute to the lack of interpersonal synchrony in children with ASD. Movement clinicians such as OTs/PTs must encourage focused social attention as well as socially embedded motor activities in children with ASD to further enhance their interpersonal synchrony with others.