Altered Allocation of Vertical Attention in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Congratulations to Dr. Kenneth Heilman on the publication of “Altered Allocation of Vertical Attention in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder, which was published in the April 17th edition of Cognitive Behavioral Neurology.



Background: Typical adults most frequently orient their attention to other people’s eyes, whereas individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) orient their attention to other people’s mouths. Typical adults also reveal visuospatial biases on tasks such as vertical and horizontal line bisections. Therefore, the difference in face viewing might be related to a more general group difference in the allocation of vertical attention.

Objective: To use vertical line bisection and quadrisection tasks to evaluate whether individuals with ASD have a more downward-oriented vertical attentional bias than do typical individuals.

Method: We recruited 20 individuals with ASD and 20 control participants matched for age (6-23 years), IQ, and sex. We asked the individuals to bisect and quadrisect lines on the top and bottom when the vertical lines were placed at the intersection of their right, left, and center egocentric sagittal planes and their coronal plane. The distances from the true midpoint and quadripoint were measured, and between-group performances were compared.

Results: No significant difference was found between the ASD and control groups for vertical line bisections or lower line quadrisections. However, when the ASD group was compared with the control group for higher line quadrisections, the ASD group exhibited a greater upward deviation.

Conclusion: There is no downward vertical attentional spatial bias associated with ASD that could help to explain these individuals’ attentional bias toward the mouth. However, additional studies are required to learn if this atypical upward vertical attentional bias might account for some of the symptoms and signs associated with ASD.