Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

New research shows that children with autism are better at combining information about moving objects than their peers, which may explain why they experience sensory overload

The study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) asked 33 children with autism and 33 typical children aged between 6 and 13 years to judge the average direction of a set of dots on a computer screen.

Children with autism were better at working out the overall direction of dots when they moved in different directions. However, they did not show the same enhancement when they had to ignore dots moving in random directions. These results suggest that children with autism can combine dynamic information well but may not always know what information to combine and what information to ignore.

“The ability to combine motion information helps us make sense of what we see, for example by allowing us to see the overall movement of a shoal of fish”, says researcher Dr Catherine Manning from the University of Oxford. “However, it is also important to know what information needs to be filtered out.  An increased combination of motion information may in some way ‘overload’ a child with autism in a dynamic world.”

Dr Liz Pellicano, Director of the IOE’s Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) said: “We know that autistic people see the world differently compared with non-autistic people. But exactly why these differences occur have so far been unclear. Our new research suggests that children with autism excel at integrating moving information – a skill that might be beneficial in some circumstances but, in others, might lead to the processing of too much unfiltered information, which could also lead to distress.”

Autism is a developmental condition that affects approximately one in 70 children and is best known for its effects on social interaction.  Individuals with autism also perceive and experience the world differently. These sensory processing differences have been demonstrated to impact on many aspects of day-to-day life, including academic achievement, social functioning and family life.  Understanding sensory differences, such as how children with autism see the world, is an important part of better understanding autism and developing interventions.

‘Enhanced integration of motion information in children with autism’ is published in the Journal of Neuroscience on 6 May 2015.

Similar stories

New computational technique reveals changes to lung function post COVID-19 infection

A new study led by Oxford researchers found that prior COVID-19 infection was associated with more uneven inflation of the lungs during normal breathing, smaller lung volumes, and greater respiratory dead space.

Oxford spinout Optellum secures $14m funding to advance pioneering AI-powered lung cancer diagnosis technology

Optellum, a University of Oxford spinout that provides a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a Series A funding round.

New study shows higher rate of fractures in people with intellectual disability

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, researchers at the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust found a substantially higher rate of fractures in people with intellectual disability compared with people of the same age and gender without an intellectual disability.

New evidence for how our brains handle surprise

A new study from the Bruno Group is challenging our perceptions of how the different regions of the cerebral cortex function. A group of ‘quiet’ cells in the somatosensory cortex that rarely respond to touch have been found to react mainly to surprising circumstances. The results suggest their function is not necessarily driven by touch, but may indicate an important and previously unidentified role across all the major cortices.

Language learning difficulties in children linked to brain differences

A new study using MRI has revealed structural brain changes in children with developmental language disorder (DLD), a common but under-recognised difficulty in language learning. Children with DLD aged 10-15 showed reduced levels of myelin in areas of the brain associated with speaking and listening to others, and areas involved in learning new skills. This finding is a significant advance in our understanding of DLD and these brain differences may explain the poorer language outcomes in this group.