Isolating Visual and Proprioceptive Components of Motor Sequence Learning in ASD

Autism Res. 2016 May;9(5):563-9. doi: 10.1002/aur.1537. Epub 2015 Oct 7.


In addition to defining impairments in social communication skills, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also show impairments in more basic sensory and motor skills. Development of new skills involves integrating information from multiple sensory modalities. This input is then used to form internal models of action that can be accessed when both performing skilled movements, as well as understanding those actions performed by others. Learning skilled gestures is particularly reliant on integration of visual and proprioceptive input. We used a modified serial reaction time task (SRTT) to decompose proprioceptive and visual components and examine whether patterns of implicit motor skill learning differ in ASD participants as compared with healthy controls. While both groups learned the implicit motor sequence during training, healthy controls showed robust generalization whereas ASD participants demonstrated little generalization when visual input was constant. In contrast, no group differences in generalization were observed when proprioceptive input was constant, with both groups showing limited degrees of generalization. The findings suggest, when learning a motor sequence, individuals with ASD tend to rely less on visual feedback than do healthy controls. Visuomotor representations are considered to underlie imitative learning and action understanding and are thereby crucial to social skill and cognitive development. Thus, anomalous patterns of implicit motor learning, with a tendency to discount visual feedback, may be an important contributor in core social communication deficits that characterize ASD. Autism Res 2016, 9: 563-569. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: ASD; motor learning; proprioception; serial reaction time task.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gestures
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult