Motor difficulties are associated with impaired perception of interactive human movement in autism spectrum disorder: A pilot study

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Introduction: The ability to accurately perceive human movement is fundamental to social functioning and known to be influenced by one’s own motor skills. In Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is ongoing debate about whether human movement perception is impaired. Given that motor skills vary considerably among these individuals, it may be that human movement perception is differentially affected as a function of motor proficiency. The aim of the current study was, thus, to explore whether individuals with ASD with and without motor difficulties differ in the way they visually attend to and perceive human movement. Method: Three groups of children aged 6 to 14 completed the study: an ASD group with motor difficulties (ASDMD), an ASD group without motor difficulties (ASDNMD), and a typically-developing control group (TD). All participants (N = 31) underwent eye-tracking while they viewed communicative interactions performed by two point-light actors. Primary analyses considered group differences in perceptual accuracy and gaze patterns. Results: Results revealed poorer perceptual accuracy in the ASDMD group compared to the ASDNMD and TD groups. Both ASD groups also exhibited gaze anomalies. Unlike the ASDNMD and TD groups who preferentially allocated their gaze to the actor initiating the interaction, the ASDMD group gazed at both actors equally. In contrast, the ASDNMD group shifted their gaze between the actors more frequently than the other groups. Conclusions: These preliminary findings suggest that individuals with ASD and co-occurring motor difficulties employ an atypical attentional style that may hinder accurate human movement perception, whereas those without motor difficulties may employ a compensatory attentional style that facilitates typical perception. Improving our understanding of how attention and perception are affected across the ASD spectrum has the potential to provide insight into the mechanisms that underlie the core social deficits that define this disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-874
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2019


  • attention
  • Autism
  • biological motion
  • human movement perception
  • motor skills

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