A recent study showed that adaptation to causal events (collisions) in adults caused subsequent events to be less likely perceived as causal. In this study, we examined if a similar negative adaptation effect for perceptual causality occurs in children, both typically developing and with autism. Previous studies have reported diminished adaptation for face identity, facial configuration and gaze direction in children with autism. To test whether diminished adaptive coding extends beyond high-level social stimuli (such as faces) and could be a general property of autistic perception, we developed a child-friendly paradigm for adaptation of perceptual causality. We compared the performance of 22 children with autism with 22 typically developing children, individually matched on age and ability (IQ scores). We found significant and equally robust adaptation aftereffects for perceptual causality in both groups. There were also no differences between the two groups in their attention, as revealed by reaction times and accuracy in a change-detection task. These findings suggest that adaptation to perceptual causality in autism is largely similar to typical development and, further, that diminished adaptive coding might not be a general characteristic of autism at low levels of the perceptual hierarchy, constraining existing theories of adaptation in autism.
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