Saturday, May 7, 2011

Core Deficit

Here is a brief abstract that recently popped up on PubMed:

Preferential attention to biological motion can be seen in typically developing infants in the first few days of life and is thought to be an important precursor in the development of social communication. We examined whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aged 3-7 years preferentially attend to point-light displays depicting biological motion. We found that children with ASD did not preferentially attend to biological motion over phase-scrambled motion, but did preferentially attend to a point-light display of a spinning top rather than a human walker. In contrast a neurotypical matched control group preferentially attended to the human, biological motion in both conditions. The results suggest a core deficit in attending to biological motion in ASD. (Annaz et al. 2011)

I don't have access to the paper, just the abstract, so the usual caveats apply. But it would appear this study is in much the same vein as (Klin et al. 2009), which I have commented on previously and which gives what would appear to be a similar set of results. In fact, I'll repeat what I said about (Klin et al. 2009) since it seems to apply equally well to (Annaz et al. 2011). These studies are revealing that:

  • Non-autistic children respond preferably to (mostly human) biological motion, and do not respond preferably to non-biological pattern and structure.
  • Autistic children respond preferably to non-biological pattern and structure, and do not respond preferably to human biological motion.
  • Neither population responds preferably to random sensory noise.

Predictably, (Annaz et al. 2011) commits the same stupidity as (Klin et al. 2009) by interpreting these results as somehow disastrous for autistic individuals, inexplicably judging autistic perceptual characteristics as evidence of a “core deficit.” I'm sure I must be sounding like a broken record by now, but given the astounding amount of scientific blindness on display here, I feel obligated to highlight at least one more time the “core deficit” behind these shallow interpretations:

Nearly every species on this planet shows a preference for and a dexterity with biological motion, particularly biological motion associated with the species itself. But there is only one species on this planet that displays any preference for and dexterity with such things as spinning tops (and all the other patterned- and structure-based artifacts that are the hallmarks of modern civilization). Before we go off mindlessly describing the characteristics of autistic perception as a core deficit, we might want to stop and consider for a moment where this species would be without the benefit of that core deficit.

(Klin et al. 2009): Klin, Ami; Lin, David J.; Gorrindo, Phillip; Ramsay, Gordon; Jones, Warren. 2009. “Two-year-olds with Autism Orient to Non-Social Contingencies Rather than Biological Motion.” Nature 459: 257–61.

(Annaz et al. 2011): Annaz, D.; Campbell, R.; Coleman, M.; Milne, E.; Swettenham, J. 2011. “Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Do Not Preferentially Attend to Biological Motion.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (ePub ahead of print).

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