Can the difficulties in social perception in Autism be due to attention deficits?

A review of: Fine, J.G., Semrud-Clikeman, M., Butcher, B., Walkowiak, J. (2008). Brief Report: Attention Effect on a Measure of Social Perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-008-0570-x

The co-morbidity between autism spectrum disorders and attention disorders (ADHD or ADD) is very high, with rates ranging from 49% to 78%. Thus, a significant number of people with autism spectrum disorders also have attention difficulties. Yet, little is known about how these attention problems may contribute to the different social difficulties experienced by people with ASD. In this paper, the authors compared 37 children with ASD (no breakdown of ASD was provided), 30 children with ADHD, and 19 typically developing kids (age 6-16). All kids had IQ scores over 80. 20 of the kids in the ASD group also had a co-morbid diagnosis of ADHD. These children completed a measure of social perception: the Child and Adolescent Social Perception Measure (CASP). This measure consists of 10 video clips of children interacting with an adult. The kids could see the vingnettes but the audio of the video was modified so that the kids could hear the prosody but not the lexical content. Then the kids were asked to tell the story in their own words and then indicate how each of the characters was feeling and how they could tell how the characters felt. Additional measures of attention and cognition were also included.

The results: ASD and ADHD kids did not differ in their ability to correctly identify emotions, but both groups performed significantly worse than the typically developing group. The ASD and ADHD groups also did not differ on measures of inattention or impulsivity, but the ADHD group had higher levels of hyperactivity. Finally inattention was a significant predictor of poor performance on the CASP. Thus, for all groups, lower levels of inattention were associated with better performance on the social perception measure, suggesting that for children with austim spectrum disoder, inattention may play a key role in explaining difficulties in non-verbal social understanding.

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2 Responses to Autism and social perception: The possible role of attention

  1. Dr. Polly says:

    Great blog – thanks for the much-needed objectivity on such an emotionally-charged topic. Found you on

  2. Thanks for the comment Dr. Polly. Nestor.

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