The University of Tennessee at Martin

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Dr. Ann Gathers

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

224 Brehm Hall



Visual Processing and Autism (NOT CURRENTLY ACTIVE)


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), affecting approximately one in every five hundred children, are characterized by varying degrees of impairments in 1.) social interactions, 2.) verbal and nonverbal communication, and 3.) interests and behaviors.  Because these impairments span multiple areas of cognitive and perceptual processing, ASD have also been termed Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD).  Visual processing, specifically face processing, is of particular interest as individuals with ASD have poor eye contact and difficulty interpreting facial expressions.  A hallmark symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the lack of attention to the human face. These and other pragmatic deficits have been attributed to abnormal visual processing in the ASD population. Thus, f ace processing in ASD individuals is of great interest to researchers.


Using a non-invasive computer-based study, the experiments in this study are designed to shed light on the mechanisms of face processing in ASD and typically developing individuals.  Two age groups are tested within each population: 5-11 year olds and 12-18 year olds. The identification of mechanistic derivations in face recognition development in the ASD population is a necessary first step in developing effective treatments and interventions for deficits in social interaction and communication.


The study is divided into three sessions.


In Session 1, the clinician meets with the child and the child's parent(s) or with the adolescent to conduct a brief medical history. A CARS behavioral inventory is also conducted. Session 1 is approximately 45 minutes.


In Session 2, the volunteer is given three screenings -- handedness, vision, and language. Following the screenings, the volunteer will be introduced to the computer experiment through a practice run. The participant will press specific computer keys in response to face pairs displayed on the screen. Based on testing and continued interest in participation, the volunteer may be scheduled for a second experimental session. The duration of Session 1 depends on the attention, age, and langauge skills of the child. The average length is 45 minutes.


Session 3 is approximately 30 minutes. Session 3 includes a review of the computer experiment and two to four experimental runs similar to the practice run. Each experimental run is self-paced and breaks are provided between each run. At the conclusion of Session 3, each volunteer is presented with an age-appropriate gift as a "thank you" for participating.


All participation is voluntary. Participants can choose to withdraw from the study at any time. All information about the participant is confidential. Participants will be notified of any significant results or publications resulting from this study.





For more information, please contact:


Dr. Ann Gathers

UT Martin Assistant Professor of Biology