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Shadows distract autistic kids

Last Updated: Saturday, May 22, 2010 - 00:00

Washington: A new study by researchers in Italy has revealed that kids with autism see shadows differently from their counterparts.

Umberto Castiello, a neuropsychologist at the University of Padua in Italy, and colleagues found that while people can look at the shadow of an object and often figure out what the object is, shadows interfere with how autistic children recognise objects.

These new findings shed light on the sensory abnormalities that accompany and possibly even help cause autism, the researchers said, reports Live Science.

The researchers showed 20 high-functioning children with autism and 20 typical children computerised versions of familiar objects with recognisable shapes, such as apples, bananas, forks or knives.

During these experiments, the presence, shape and position of the shadows the objects cast were systematically manipulated — for instance, a vase might cast the expected shadow, the shadow of a cone, or no shadow at all.

The children were asked to say when they recognised the object. When shadows matched the objects, children without autism were faster at figuring out what objects were, taking roughly 310 milliseconds on average compared with 340 milliseconds if shadows did not match objects and roughly 330 milliseconds if no shadows were present.

However, in autistic children, the presence of shadows — either matching or not matching the objects — interfered with recognition, making them take a little less than 350 milliseconds on average to do either. Instead, they reacted faster when there were no shadows present, recognising objects in roughly 310 milliseconds.

A possible explanation is that in autism, shadows go from being simple features worth a glance to extra details they hyper-focus on, potentially eating up their attention.

During the study, the children sometimes required snacks, and the researchers learned that autistic children typically have specific rules regarding food that should not be violated.

Castiello said that the findings regarding the shadows suggest that when one wants to teach children with autism, one might want to provide rooms with multiple light sources that minimise shadows, reducing distractions.

The findings appear online in May in the journal PLoS ONE.


First Published: Saturday, May 22, 2010 - 00:00
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