14 April 2010
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) form a continuum of neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by deficits in communication and reciprocal social interaction, as well as by repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Sensory disturbances are also frequently reported in clinical and autobiographical accounts. However, surprisingly few empirical studies have characterized the fundamental features of sensory and multisensory processing in ASD. The current study is structured to test for potential differences in multisensory temporal function in ASD by making use of a temporally dependent, low-level multisensory illusion. In this illusion, the presentation of a single flash of light accompanied by multiple sounds often results in the illusory perception of multiple flashes. By systematically varying the temporal structure of the audiovisual stimuli, a “temporal window” within which these stimuli are likely to be bound into a single perceptual entity can be defined. The results of this study revealed that children with ASD report the flash-beep illusion over an extended range of stimulus onset asynchronies relative to children with typical development, suggesting that children with ASD have altered multisensory temporal function. These findings provide valuable new insights into our understanding of sensory processing in ASD and may hold promise for the development of more sensitive diagnostic measures and improved remediation strategies.