The “Enhanced Perceptual Functioning Model” of autism supported by meta-analysis, and mentions face processing and hyperlexia

A most interesting recent quote from Canadian researcher Dr Laurent Mottron about a recently published meta analysis of published functional imaging studies of autistic subjects :

“We synthesized the results of neuroimaging studies using visual stimuli from across the world. The results are strong enough to remain true despite the variability between the research designs, samples and tasks, making the perceptual account of autistic cognition currently the most validated model. The stronger engagement of the visual system, whatever the task, represents the first physiological confirmation that enhanced perceptual processing is a core feature of neural organization in this population. We now have a very strong statement about autism functioning which may be ground for cognitive accounts of autistic perception, learning, memory and reasoning.”

This not a new theory about autism, I believe it was first set out in a published journal paper in 2006. This theory appears to have some similarities with the “Intense World” theory of autism that was the creation of Henry Markram, Tania Rinaldi and Kamila Markram, and would explain the same sorts of phenomena that the intense world theory would explain. The theory also quite obviously brings to mind the popular idea that autistic people are “visual thinkers”, an idea which has been popularized by the autistic author Temple Grandin. I’m not sure if she was the original source of this idea.

I noticed that in the abstract of the paper by Mottron and colleagues hyperlexia and “atypical” face processing in autism are mentioned, while the general thrust of the abstract and the press release seems to suggest that autistics are or should be better than non-autistic people in visual processing. So what does that mean? Are autistic people better or worse than non-autistic people at recognizing and interpreting faces, and at reading text? Almost everything that I’ve read about autism suggests that autistic people are impaired. There seems to be some inconsistency somewhere. I just know that in our family we have synaesthetes who are gifted or clever in visual recognition tasks such as reading, recognizing faces, identifying facial expressions and identifying different types within categories of objects (a task that activates the same part of the brain as face recognition). Is there some type of relationship between our synaesthesia and autism?

I hope to get a hold of the full text of this paper and search it visually with a great attention to detail. I’ll let you know what I see.

References

Samson, Fabienne, Mottron, Laurent, Soulieres, Isabelle & Zeffiro, Thomas A. Enhanced visual functioning in autism: an ALE meta-analysis. Human Brain Mapping. Article first published online: 4 APR 2011 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21307 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.21307/abstract

Raillant-Clark, William New research explains autistic’s exceptional visual abilities. EurekAlert Release date: April 4th 2011. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-04/uom-nre032811.php

Raillant-Clark, William Spatial distribution. EurekAlert (This is an image accompanying a media release. “This is the spatial distribution of regions showing more task-related activity in autistics than non-autistics for the three processing domains: “faces” in red, “objects” in green, and “words” in blue.“) http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/30851.php?from=181850

Mottron, Laurent, Dawson, Michelle, Soulieres, Isabelle, Hubert, Benedicte & Burack, Jake Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Vol. 36, No. 1, January 2006 DOI 10.1007/s10803-005-0040-7 Published Online: February 2, 2006 http://affect.media.mit.edu/Rgrads/Articles/pdfs/Mottron-etal-2006-EPF.pdf  http://www.springerlink.com/content/f1r60p2553n12565/

Markram, Henry, Rinaldi, Tania, Markram, Kamila The Intense World Syndrome – an Alternative Hypothesis for Autism. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2007 November; 1(1): 77–96. Published online 2007 October 15. Prepublished online 2007 September 1. doi: 10.3389/neuro.01.1.1.006.2007. PMCID: PMC2518049 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518049/

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