We examined the planning and control of goal-directed aiming movements in young adults with autism. Participants performed rapid manual aiming movements to one of two targets. We manipulated the difficulty of the planning and control process by varying both target size and amplitude of the movements. Consistent with previous research, participants with autism took longer to prepare and execute movements, particularly when the index of difficulty was high. Although there were no group differences for accuracy, participants with autism exhibited more temporal and spatial variability over the initial phase of the movement even though mean peak accelerations and velocities were lower than for control participants. Our results suggest that although persons with autism have difficulty specifying muscular force, they compensate for this initial variability during limb deceleration. Perhaps persons with autism have learned to keep initial impulses low to minimize the spatial variability that needs to be corrected for during the online control phase of the movement.
The authors are with the Dept of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1.