Sensorimotor Difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evaluation and Intervention

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sport and Health Sciences

Abstract

Approximately 1 in every 100 people is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a condition affecting social interaction and communication (1). A large body of work has shown that autistic individuals have atypical visually-driven motor sequence learning (for review, see 2).
ASD is associated with clumsiness, postural instability, and reduced motor functioning performance (3), which ultimately culminates in impairments in the ability to learn novel motor skills (motor learning; see 4). Furthermore, visuomotor integration (used to guide motor learning) has been described as 'detuned' in ASD (5), with autistic individuals showing atypical visuomotor learning (8) with reduced abilities to filter out irrelevant information (6) and differentiate distracting and task-relevant visual stimuli (7).
These visuomotor deficits can be understood as impairments in the use of prior information to guide actions and combine sensory input. Autistic children show a less predictive postural response in motor control tasks (9) and appear less affected by the Shepard illusion (e.g. 10), effects proposedly driven by prior knowledge. However, current research has received two major criticisms: (i) it largely focuses on motor control or visual perception of illusions separately, rather than incorporating multiple elements of visuomotor integration; (ii) research tends to focus on fundamental aspects of motor control, rather than functional outcomes that directly implicate health and quality of life. Our approach aims to overcome these limitations.

This project will extend existing work and examine visuomotor processes that are impaired in autistic populations. We aim to: (i) develop an understanding of the aetiology of functional issues with motor control and perception that autistic people experience; and subsequently (ii) develop a novel intervention for the ASD population, aimed at enhancing visuomotor control. These objectives align with those of the Centre of Applied Autism Research (CAAR), which aims to 'understand autism through world-class research' and 'translate theory into practical applications'.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1929804 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 23/04/2022 Tom Arthur