Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 199–210 | Cite as

Subjective Perceptual Distortions and Visual Dysfunction in Children with Autism

  • Rebecca A. O. Davis
  • Marcia A. Bockbrader
  • Robin R. Murphy
  • William P. Hetrick
  • Brian F. O’Donnell

Case reports and sensory inventories suggest that autism involves sensory processing anomalies. Behavioral tests indicate impaired motion and normal form perception in autism. The present study used first-person accounts to investigate perceptual anomalies and related subjective to psychophysical measures. Nine high-functioning children with autism and nine typically-developing children were given a questionnaire to assess the frequency of sensory anomalies, as well as psychophysical tests of visual perception. Results indicated that children with autism experience increased perceptual anomalies, deficits in trajectory discrimination consistent with dysfunction in the cortical dorsal pathway or in cerebellar midsagittal vermis, and high spatial frequency contrast impairments consistent with dysfunctional parvocellular processing. Subjective visual hypersensitivity was significantly related to greater deficits across vision tests.


Autism; visual system; contrast sensitivity; sensory profile; motion processing; subjective distortions. 



This research was supported by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, NIMH grants (RO1 MH62150-01; RO3 MH63112-01) awarded to Brian F. O’Donnell, the Indiana University Cognitive Science Program for Marcia B. Bockbrader, and the Indiana University Honors College for Rebecca A.O. Davis. We thank all the mothers and children who volunteered their time and their participation. We are grateful to Evan Davis for technical assistance regarding the psychophysical paradigms and P. Poskozim and W. Clevenger for assistance in testing participants. We acknowledge K. O’Bryan for her inspiration and guidance and E. Davis and E. Wilt for their continued support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca A. O. Davis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marcia A. Bockbrader
    • 1
  • Robin R. Murphy
    • 1
  • William P. Hetrick
    • 1
  • Brian F. O’Donnell
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of OtolaryngologyIndiana University School of MedicineIndianapolisUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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