Children with autism see simple movements twice as fast as their typically developing peers, new research suggests, a finding that could help explain why many with the developmental disorder are sensitive to noise, light and other stimuli.

In a study published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found for the first time that autism may bring heightened perception of motion.

“We think of autism as a social disorder because children with this condition often struggle with social interactions, but what we sometimes neglect is that almost everything we know about the world comes from our senses. Abnormalities in how a person sees or hears can have a profound effect on social communication,” says Duje Tadin, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester who worked on the study.

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Tadin and his colleagues at Yale University and Vanderbilt University looked at 20 children with autism and 26 typically developing kids ages 8 to 17 to assess how quickly each child perceived motion.

All of the children were shown a series of video clips featuring black and white bars moving from one side to the other. As the kids correctly determined whether the bars were heading left or right, the videos became shorter and the direction became more difficult to decipher. The contrast of the videos was also adjusted to be lighter or darker to make the images more or less challenging to see.

The researchers found that all children did better on the test when the bars were displayed darker, but those with autism improved significantly, outperforming their typically developing peers two to one.

“This dramatically enhanced ability to perceive motion is a hint that the brains of individuals with autism keep responding more and more as intensity increases. Although this could be considered advantageous, in most circumstances if the neural response doesn’t stop at the right level it could lead to sensory overload,” said Jennifer Foss-Feig of the Child Study Center at Yale University and one of the study authors.

Researchers said that this heightened brain response could be one reason that those with autism withdraw.

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