The brain builds an association between action and sensory feedback to predict the sensory consequence of self-generated motor commands. This internal model of action is central to our ability to adapt movements and may also play a role in our ability to learn from observing others. Recently, we reported that the spatial generalization patterns that accompany adaptation of reaching movements were distinct in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as compared with typically developing (TD) children. To test whether the generalization patterns are specific to ASD, here, we compared the patterns of adaptation with those in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Consistent with our previous observations, we found that in ASD, the motor memory showed greater than normal generalization in proprioceptive coordinates compared with both TD children and children with ADHD; children with ASD also showed slower rates of adaptation compared with both control groups. Children with ADHD did not show this excessive generalization to the proprioceptive target, but they did show excessive variability in the speed of movements with an increase in the exponential distribution of responses (τ) as compared with both TD children and children with ASD. The results suggest that slower rate of adaptation and anomalous bias towards proprioceptive feedback during motor learning are characteristics of autism, whereas increased variability in execution is a characteristic of ADHD.
© 2012 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.