Autistic Children Lack Visual Skills Needed for Real Life Tasks


Research has established that children with an autism spectrum disorder have exceptional skills at small-scale searches, such as on a table-top or computer. However, no study has ever tested the ability of autistic children to find items in a larger scale environment. Researchers from the University of Bristol have found that children with autism are not “foragers” and are not systematic in their searches, which is a necessary skill for achieving independence in adulthood.

Autistic Children are More Chaotic, Instead of Systematic, with Searches

Dr. Elizabeth Pellicano of the Department of Psychology and Human Development at the Institute of Education in London, and colleagues tested visual searching ability in forty children, twenty with autism and twenty healthy controls of the same age. They were to search for targets in a test room in an experiment intended to mimic daily life better than previous research studies.

Read: Targeted Intervention Improves Social Skills in Toddlers with Autism

Dr. Pellicano previously received the 2007 Michael Young Prize, a prestigious award honoring her work in autism research.


The children were instructed to press buttons on the floor to find a hidden target among multiple illuminated locations. The “game” was biased so that 80% of the time, the targets appeared more on one side of the room than the other. This allowed them to test a previous conclusion that autistic children are faster at picking up on patterns in a system, explain the researchers.

The researchers found that children with autism were less efficient and more chaotic in their searches for the targets. The researchers say that the findings could help explain why autistic children are often unable to complete seemingly simple tasks such as finding a shoe in a bedroom or a favorite animal at the zoo.

Read: High Accuracy MRI Brain Scan Can Detect Autism

"The ability to work effectively and systematically in these kinds of tasks mirrors everyday behaviors that allow us to function as independent adults," said Josie Briscoe, another of the report authors. "This research offers an exciting opportunity to explore underlying skills that could help people with autism achieve independence."

Source Reference:
'Children with autism are neither systematic nor optimal foragers' by Elizabeth Pellicano, Alastair D. Smith, Filipe Cristino, Bruce M. Hood, Josie Briscoe, and Iain D. Gilchrist was published on Monday 20 December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


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