People with autism can ‘overlook faces’ to take in colour and contrast

A ground-breaking research study has shown that people with autism interpret the world differently through their vision when compared to people without the condition.

The researchers at Caltech showed two separate groups a range of images.

One group contained twenty participants who were ‘high-functioning’ individuals with autism, whereas the second group contained 19 people without the condition.

Factors such as age, gender, race, educational background, and IQ were taken into account when the results from the two groups were analysed.

In total, 700 images were shown to all of the participants, with each individual being shown an image for approximately three seconds.

A device measured how much attention the entire study group gave to the patterns on objects shown, and while the control subjects gave more attention to the immediate image presented, people with autism split their attention between the same area and any patterns or background detail.

Ralph Adolphs, a biology professor involved with the study, said: “Among other findings, our work shows that the story is not as simple as saying ‘people with ASD don’t look normally at faces.’ They don’t look at most things in a typical way.”

He added: “Autism is many things. Our study is one initial step in trying to discover what kinds of different autisms there actually are.

“The next step is to see if all people with ASD show the kind of pattern we found.

“There are probably differences between individual people with ASD, and those differences could relate to differences in diagnosis, for instance, revealing subtypes of autism.”

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