Thirteen autistic and 14 typically developing children (controls) imitated hand/arm gestures and performed mirror drawing; both tasks assessed ability to reorganize the relationship between spatial goals and the motor commands needed to acquire them. During imitation, children with autism were less accurate than controls in replicating hand shape, hand orientation, and number of constituent limb movements. During shape tracing, children with autism performed accurately with direct visual feedback, but when viewing their hand in a mirror, some children with autism generated fewer errors than controls whereas others performed much worse. Large mirror drawing errors correlated with hand orientation and hand shape errors in imitation, suggesting that visuospatial information processing deficits may contribute importantly to functional motor coordination deficits in autism.
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Acknowledgments We thank the participants and their families for their dedication to our research efforts. We are grateful to Diksha Gandhi and Natdhaphol Kulvadhanaphan for scoring the gesture imitation videos. This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation BES0238442 and by the Way-Klingler Family Foundation. Portions of this work have been presented previously in abstract form at the Society for Neuroscience conference (Salowitz et al. 2011).
- Goal-directed movement
- Motor control
- Sensorimotor transformation
- Visuospatial information processing