Exogenous spatial attention: evidence for intact functioning in adults with autism spectrum disorder.

Deficits or atypicalities in attention have been reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet no consensus on the nature of these deficits has emerged. We conducted three experiments that paired a peripheral precue with a covert discrimination task, using protocols for which the effects of covert exogenous spatial attention on early vision have been well established in typically developing populations. Experiment 1 assessed changes in contrast sensitivity, using orientation discrimination of a contrast-defined grating; Experiment 2 evaluated the reduction of crowding in the visual periphery, using discrimination of a letter-like figure with flanking stimuli at variable distances; and Experiment 3 assessed improvements in visual search, using discrimination of the same letter-like figure with a variable number of distractor elements. In all three experiments, we found that exogenous attention modulated visual discriminability in a group of high-functioning adults with ASD and that it did so in the same way and to the same extent as in a matched control group. We found no evidence to support the hypothesis that deficits in exogenous spatial attention underlie the emergence of core ASD symptomatology.