Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia (SCZ) are neurodevelopmental disorders with partly overlapping clinical phenotypes including sensorimotor impairments. However, direct comparative studies on sensorimotor control across these two disorders are lacking. We set out to compare visuomotor upper limb impairment, quantitatively, in ASD and SCZ. Patients with ASD (N = 24) were compared to previously published data from healthy control participants (N = 24) and patients with SCZ (N = 24). All participants performed a visuomotor grip force-tracking task in single and dual-task conditions. The dual-task (high cognitive load) presented either visual distractors or required mental addition during grip force-tracking. Motor inhibition was measured by duration of force release and from principal component analysis (PCA) of the participant's force-trajectory. Common impairments in patients with ASD and SCZ included increased force-tracking error in single-task condition compared to controls, a further increase in error in dual-task conditions, and prolonged duration of force release. These three sensorimotor impairments were found in both patient groups. In contrast, distinct impairments in patients with ASD included greater error under high cognitive load and delayed onset of force release compared to SCZ. The PCA inhibition component was higher in ASD than SCZ and controls, correlated to duration of force release, and explained group differences in tracking error. In conclusion, sensorimotor impairments related to motor inhibition are common to ASD and SCZ, but more severe in ASD, consistent with enhanced neurodevelopmental load in ASD. Furthermore, impaired motor anticipation may represent a further specific impairment in ASD. Autism Res 2020, 13: 885-896. © 2020 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia (SCZ) are neurodevelopmental disorders with partly overlapping and partly distinct clinical symptoms. Sensorimotor impairments rank among these symptoms, but it is less clear whether they are shared or distinct. In this study, we showed using a grip force task that sensorimotor impairments related to motor inhibition are common to ASD and SCZ, but more severe in ASD. Impaired motor anticipation may represent a further specific impairment in ASD.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; inhibitory dysfunction; neurodevelopmental disorder; schizophrenia; sensorimotor control.
© 2020 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.