Females with high functioning autism spectrum disorders are significantly less accurate than males on a custom visual memory motor task


Quantifiable motor deficits characterized in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may be useful as objective measures in the diagnostic process. This study was designed to assess whether a visual memory motor task revealed differences in accuracy scores between typically developing (TD) children and children diagnosed with high functioning ASD. Male (n=5) and female (n=5) children with ASD (mean AQ-Child score=94.40) aged 6-11 years (M= 8.60 ± 1.71) and male (n=7) and female (n=11) TD children (mean AQ-Child score=47.89) aged 5-8 years (M= 6.61 ± 0.98) completed a custom made application on an iPad tablet. The task involved participants placing their finger on a “home” position at the bottom of the screen and holding their finger in place and following a random fore period, a target (diameter=1cm) appeared at a random location. Participants were instructed to move to and tap the target as quickly and accurately as possible. However, once participants lifted their finger from the “home” position, the target would disappear such that participants had to move to the remembered location of the target. Accuracy scores were computed by averaging the participant’s radial distance in pixels from the centre of the target on each trial. A factorial ANOVA was conducted to compare accuracy between the two groups by gender. Main effects of group (F(1,24)=8.540, p=0.007) and gender (F(1,24)=5.580, p=0.027) were identified such that overall, children with ASD and females were significantly less accurate. Importantly, an interaction between gender and group (F(1,24)=14.238, p=0.001) revealed that females with ASD were significantly less accurate than both males with ASD (p=0.001) and their TD counterparts (p<0.001). On the contrary, males with ASD performed similarly to both their male and female TD counterparts (p=.536 and p=.257, respectively). These findings suggest that a visual memory motor task may be a useful indicator of ASD in females.

Acknowledgments: Research supported by Wilfrid Laurier University and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.