Previous research has demonstrated that adult autistic patients are abnormally slow to orient attention, with degree of slowed orienting associated with severity of cerebellar hypoplasia. This research was extended to children who, at ages two through six, met diagnostic criteria for autism and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An average of 3 years later, when old enough to participate in behavioral experiments, the children returned to the laboratory and completed a spatial attention paradigm. Degree of slowed attentional orienting to visual cues was significantly correlated with degree of cerebellar hypoplasia, but not with size of other neuroanatomic regions. Additionally, there was a trend for orienting speed to differ between diagnostic outcome subgroups; children with confirmed diagnoses of autism at time of behavioral testing had larger orienting deficits than those who no longer met diagnostic criteria for autism. This research is among the first to establish a specific brain-behavior link in autistic children.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.