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. 2012 Jul;33(7):1553-81.
doi: 10.1002/hbm.21307. Epub 2011 Apr 4.

Enhanced Visual Functioning in Autism: An ALE Meta-Analysis


Enhanced Visual Functioning in Autism: An ALE Meta-Analysis

Fabienne Samson et al. Hum Brain Mapp. .


Autistics often exhibit enhanced perceptual abilities when engaged in visual search, visual discrimination, and embedded figure detection. In similar fashion, while performing a range of perceptual or cognitive tasks, autistics display stronger physiological engagement of the visual system than do non-autistics. To account for these findings, the Enhanced Perceptual Functioning Model proposes that enhanced autistic performance in basic perceptual tasks results from stronger engagement of sensory processing mechanisms, a situation that may facilitate an atypically prominent role for perceptual mechanisms in supporting cognition. Using quantitative meta-analysis of published functional imaging studies from which Activation Likelihood Estimation maps were computed, we asked whether autism is associated with enhanced task-related activity for a broad range of visual tasks. To determine whether atypical engagement of visual processing is a general or domain-specific phenomenon, we examined three different visual processing domains: faces, objects, and words. Overall, we observed more activity in autistics compared to non-autistics in temporal, occipital, and parietal regions. In contrast, autistics exhibited less activity in frontal cortex. The spatial distribution of the observed differential between-group patterns varied across processing domains. Autism may be characterized by enhanced functional resource allocation in regions associated with visual processing and expertise. Atypical adult organizational patterns may reflect underlying differences in developmental neural plasticity that can result in aspects of the autistic phenotype, including enhanced visual skills, atypical face processing, and hyperlexia.

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