Intact Sensorimotor Adaptation in Autistic Adults

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
J. R. Oulton1, J. Causer1, S. J. Hayes2 and S. J. Bennett2, (1)Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom, (2)Research Institute Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Background: Atypical sensorimotor integration in autism leads to altered action models (Mostofsky & Ewen, 2011). There is growing evidence illustrating how atypical sensorimotor integration underlies differences in sensorimotor behaviour (Cook, Blakemore, & Press, 2013; Marko et al., 2015), however the majority of research has been carried out with autistic individuals that have mild severity, or require support. Whereas, autistic individuals who are moderate/severe, or require substantial support are understudied.

Objectives: Examine the effect of experience on sensorimotor adaptation in adults diagnosed with moderate/severe autism spectrum disorders.

Methods: Forty autistic individuals diagnosed with moderate/severe autism spectrum disorders formed an experimental group (n = 22) and a control group (n = 18). The experimental group participated in trampolining sessions and accumulated an average of 144 hours (SD =26) of sensorimotor experience. The control group, who were matched for age, gender, verbal IQ, social responsiveness, sensory profile, and motor proficiency, had participated in community-based activities that did not have a sensorimotor basis. A non-invasive preferential viewing protocol (PVP) measured gaze behaviour while observing one of four point-light models (8 seconds duration) displaying experimental stimuli: specialist trampolining movements (BAGA award level 2 seat drops and 3 twists) or the control stimuli: straight jumps on a trampoline, and gait. Participants viewed these on a computer monitor, while eye gaze was measured using a desk mounted Tobii X2 eye-tracker. A PVP trial required participants to view a vertical split screen, with the same action (e.g., seat drop) presented in an upright (congruent) and inverted (incongruent) orientation. Participants viewed each of the stimuli presented as a block of four trials, trial order within a block counterbalanced to avoid sequence effects. In total, there was 4 blocks and 4 trials. Preferential attention was quantified using first-fixation-location (e.g., congruent) and first-fixation-duration (Jones, Carr, & Klin, 2008; Ryan, Hannula, & Cohen, 2007).

Results: Significant group x congruency interactions were revealed for first-fixation-location (p = 0.001) and first-fixation-duration (p = 0.037) when viewing twists. The experimental group orientated attention to the incongruent point-light action, but then fixated longer on the congruent action (congruent: M = 193.85ms; incongruent: M = 147.63ms). The control group orientated attention to the congruent point-light action, but then fixated longer on the incongruent action (incongruent: M = 177.22ms; congruent: M = 169.00ms). No significant (ps > 0.05) effects were revealed when viewing seat drops, straight jumps, and gait.

Conclusions: Sensorimotor training leads to functional adaptation in the underlying perception-action system, with faster motor response times during the perception of learned stimuli (Catmur et al., 2009), and the development of experience-dependent perception-action processing (Calvo-Merino, Glaser, Grèzes, Passingham, & Haggard, 2005; Casile & Giese, 2006). Consistent with these effects, here there were differences found in preferential attention (first-fixation-location) and evaluation (first-fixation-duration) of specialist learned action stimuli (i.e., twists) following trampolining sensorimotor experience compared to those that engaged in community-based activities. This indicates intact sensorimotor development and processing in autistic adults diagnosed with moderate/severe autism spectrum disorders.