Neural correlates of texture and contour integration in children with autism spectrum disorders,Vision Res, 16 (49), 2140-2150.
In this study, we have used an electrophysiological paradigm to investigate the neural correlates of the visual integration of local signals across space to generate global percepts in a group of low functioning autistic kids. We have analyzed the amplitude of key harmonics of the Visual Evoked Potentials (VEPs) recorded while participants observed orientation-based texture and contour stimuli, forming coherent global patterns, alternating with visual patterns in which the same number of local elements were randomly oriented in order to loose any globally organized feature. Comparing the results of the clinical sample with those obtained in an age-matched control group, we have observed that in the texture conditions the 1st and 3rd harmonics, containing signature of global form processing (Norcia, Pei, Bonneh, Hou, Sampath, & Pettet, 2005), were present in the control group, while in the experimental group only the 1st harmonic was present. In the Contour condition the 1st harmonic was not present for both groups while the 3rd harmonic was significantly present in the control group but absent in the group with autism. Moreover, the amount of organization required to elicit significant 1st harmonic response in the texture condition was higher in the clinical group. The present results bring additional support to the idea that texture and contour processing are supported by independent mechanisms in normal vision. Autistic vision would thus be characterized by a preserved, perhaps weaker texture mechanism, possibly mediated by feedback interactions between visual areas, and by a disfunction of the mechanism supporting contour processing, possibly mediated by long-range intra-cortical connections. Within this framework, the residual ability to detect contours shown in psychophysical studies could be due to the contribution of the texture mechanism to contour processing.