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A number of studies have demonstrated that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are faster or more successful than typically developing control participants at various visual-attentional tasks (for reviews, see Dakin and Frith in Neuron 48:497–507, 2005; Simmons et al. in Vis Res 49:2705–2739, 2009). This “ASD advantage” was first identified in the domain of visual search by Plaisted et al. (J Child Psychol Psychiatry 39:777–783, 1998). Here we survey the findings of visual search studies from the past 15 years that contrasted the performance of individuals with and without ASD. Although there are some minor caveats, the overall consensus is that—across development and a broad range of symptom severity—individuals with ASD reliably outperform controls on visual search. The etiology of the ASD advantage has not been formally specified, but has been commonly attributed to ‘enhanced perceptual discrimination’, a superior ability to visually discriminate between targets and distractors in such tasks (e.g. O’Riordan in Cognition 77:81–96, 2000). As well, there is considerable evidence for impairments of the attentional network in ASD (for a review, see Keehn et al. in J Child Psychol Psychiatry 37:164–183, 2013). We discuss some recent results from our laboratory that support an attentional, rather than perceptual explanation for the ASD advantage in visual search. We speculate that this new conceptualization may offer a better understanding of some of the behavioral symptoms associated with ASD, such as over-focusing and restricted interests.
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- The Mechanisms Underlying the ASD Advantage in Visual Search
Alice S. Carter
- Springer US