Internet Test Reveals Unique Strengths in Autistic Individuals

People with autism do not interact socially in the same way that people without autism do. Cognitive and verbal impediments that accompany autism often make interactions with other people very challenging for autistic individuals. This barrier can make research on autism difficult to conduct. To overcome this obstacle, Jennifer L. Stevenson of the Department of Psychology at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania recently led an internet-based study involving 72 individuals with autism and 72 without. The goal of her study was to determine if spatial perception, a process suggested to be enhanced in individuals with autism, differed significantly between the two groups, and also to see how spatial abilities were related to verbal and numerical skills in the participants.

Spatial perception in those with autism is often recognized as the ability to locate hidden items in visual cues. In other words, when hidden items or figures are embedded in visual displays, individuals with autism can locate them easier than nonautistic individuals. In her study, Stevenson examined whether this was true across verbal and numerical domains and whether or not there were significant gender differences. Her results support previous research wherein the participants with autism were more significantly superior at finding the embedded figures in spatial tasks than the nonautistic individuals. However, when she looked at the results of the verbal and numerical tests, she found very little difference between the nonautistic participants and those with autism.

With respect to gender, Stevenson’s findings again support existing research that shows verbal strengths in females and numerical and spatial strengths in the males, with and without autism. Stevenson believes her results contradict some findings that are based on in person examinations. Using the internet may provide individuals with autism with the opportunity to respond without the anxiety or fear they may experience when being examined in person. This mode of testing could allow for enhanced communication and a more accurate snapshot of cognitive abilities. Stevenson added, “The current study’s success supports the use of the Internet as a research medium for investigating other cognitive domains.”

Stevenson, J.L., and Gernsbacher, M.A. (2013). Abstract spatial reasoning as an autistic strength. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59329. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059329

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  • mel

    April 13th, 2013 at 12:11 AM

    while using Internet for research and surveying can wipe the geographic distances away and could reduce anxiety as suggested,it could also bring in many inaccurate results.and that is something very important in any research or study.

  • Davey

    April 13th, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    Maybe this will finally open the eyes of the general public that autism means that you should stop trying to help a child, because there is real life there in so many autistic individuals that is often never nurtured via lack of education and respct for what many have to offer to all of us.

  • CandacE

    April 15th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    And hopefully repair many of the special education curricula problems that autistic children are currently subjected to!


    April 15th, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Mel: If technology helps then more power to them! For me autism is something the person one is not responsible for having.

    So it makes sense to use tools and methods that help cope with the problem. If it is the internet then so be it. We cannot say internet can get you hooked on to it and take it away from a person who can derive so much benefit from it!

    And as far as accuracy of the research is concerned, how can we even make sure the responses of even non-autistic individuals in-person are not biased or have a white-lie? Any study or research could be wrong!

  • greeley

    April 16th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    well sure
    for too long we have focused on the things that make an autistic individual weak
    and not the things that make them strong
    this is a step in the right direction

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