Characterizing Cognitive and Visuomotor Control in Children With Sensory Processing Dysfunction and Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Abstract

Objective: Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and sensory processing dysfunction (SPD) are reported to show difficulties involving cognitive and visuomotor control. We sought to determine whether performance on computerized, behavioral measures of cognitive control aimed at assessing selective attention, as well as visuomotor abilities differentiated children with ASD (n = 14), SPD (n = 14) and typically developing controls (TDC; n = 28). Method: Cognitive control differences were measured by assessing selective attention-based abilities both with and without distracting stimuli, and visuomotor differences were measured by characterizing visuomotor tracking and tracing skills. Performance in cognitive control and visuomotor domains were investigated globally as composite scores, and specifically within each task. Results: Our results indicated that though the ASD group showed the most impaired selective attention performance, the SPD group had intermediate abilities—performing above the ASD group but below the TDC group. Furthermore, both the SPD and ASD groups demonstrated equally impaired visuomotor abilities relative to the TDC group. A correlational analysis between cognitive and visuomotor control suggest a relationship between these overlapping control networks. Conclusions: This study supports the importance of direct, phenotypic characterizations of control-based abilities in children with ASD and SPD to personalize characterization and treatment interventions for at-risk children.

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