Neural Correlates of Visuomotor Learning in Autism

J Child Neurol. 2015 Dec;30(14):1877-86. doi: 10.1177/0883073815600869. Epub 2015 Sep 8.


Motor impairments are prevalent in children with autism spectrum disorder. The Serial Reaction Time Task, a well-established visuomotor sequence learning probe, has produced inconsistent behavioral findings in individuals with autism. Moreover, it remains unclear how underlying neural processes for visuomotor learning in children with autism compare to processes for typically developing children. Neural activity differences were assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging during a modified version of the Serial Reaction Time Task in children with and without autism. Though there was no group difference in visuomotor sequence learning, underlying patterns of neural activation significantly differed when comparing sequence (i.e., learning) to random (i.e., nonlearning) blocks. Children with autism demonstrated decreased activity in brain regions implicated in visuomotor sequence learning: superior temporal sulcus and posterior cingulate cortex. The findings implicate differences in brain mechanisms that support initial sequence learning in autism and can help explain behavioral observations of autism-associated impairments in skill development (motor, social, communicative) reliant on visuomotor integration.

Keywords: autism; motor learning; procedural learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception / physiology*