C2D2 research 1a - Are time-perception abnormalities linked to social and motor impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Project: Other projectOther internal award

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Layman's description

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that leads to problems with communication and social interaction. Recently, researchers have found that individuals with ASD often have a poor sense of time. The goal of this project is to see how the ability to perceive time is linked to other problems in ASD. A study will be set up to test for differences between individuals with ASD and a matched control group on a variety of measures including tests of time perception, social perception and the ability to imitate (mimic) the actions of others. This will be the first step in setting up a new multidisciplinary research group to test ideas relating to ASD.

Key findings

Typically developing and ASD diagnosed children were individually matched for age and non-verbal IQ. Nine participants from each group were submitted to analyses. Results demonstrate no significant difference in explicit temporal perception performance for subsecond intervals (200-800ms). The task elicited very similar performance levels for TD and ASD children, with no significant difference between any of the measures of time perception on this task (point of subjective equality (PSE, just noticeable difference (JND) or spread of data).
However, in the temporal bisection task utilising suprasecond intervals (1000-4000ms), a statistically significant difference was found in the PSE, JND and Spread of the data between the TD and ASD children (all p<0.05). This indicates that children's sensitivity to duration discrimination is worse in the ASD group than the TD group, with the minimum observable temporal difference being much greater in ASD children.
Furthermore, we examined the relationship between the temporal bisection task and basic motor skills. Using the PANESS (the Physical and Neurological Assessment of Subtle Signs), we examined children's performance in coordination, balance, gait, aim, as well as their overflow movements (unwanted movements that occur during a desired movement) and coreiform (involuntary movements which may be rapid or jerky in nature). The higher the total score on the PANESS, the worse the basic motor skills, or the more overflow and more errors were observed during the different tasks.
Examining the suprasecond temporal bisection task performance in relation to PANESS scores (assessing individuals’ basic motor skills), a significant negative correlation was found (Rs = .05, p=<.05).) The better the time perception performance, the lower the score on the PANESS; that is, the better their temporal discrimination sensitivity, the better their basic motor skills.
Whilst we do not speculate that intact time processing has a direct influence on motor skills (or vice versa), time perception and motor skills and social interaction abilities would appear to be highly inter-related. The relationship and interdependencies between temporal processing, motor skills and social abilities warrants further exploration.
As such, we are conducting a further studies to explore the timing aspects of action observation and prediction, and posit that the difficulties experienced by individuals with ASD in terms of reciprocal social communication and understanding and interpreting others’ actions may, in part, be due to deficiencies in accurately perceiving the elapse of time and being able to draw upon their own motor repertoire and motor cognition skills to accurately predict and interpret others’ actions.

Presentation delivered at the 10th Annual Child Mental Health Research Network Conference, at York District Hospital: “Temporal Processing and its Relation to Social and Motor Skills. Implications for Autism Spectrum Disorders” (Brattan, V.C., 2013)

We have established a new collaborative network between members of The University of York’s Psychology Department (Dr Pat Johnston, Professor Steven Tipper), HYMS (Dr Barry Wright) and Hull Psychology Department (Dr Jason Tipples). This has been the first step in setting up a new multidisciplinary research group to examine motor cognition in relation to temporal processing and new theories of autism spectrum condition.
In working towards the aims of the project, we have established collaborations with local primary and secondary schools, York City Council and parent and child support groups for individuals affected by autism spectrum disorder, as well as the local National Autistic Society (NAS) body. This is a new network of organisational bodies that will continue to collaborate on future research projects held by the University of York to develop knowledge in relation to autism spectrum conditions.

One postgraduate Research Assistant was employed on the project for six months. The research Assistant recruited all participants by contacting over 45 schools in the York and North Yorkshire area, attending parent support drop-in sessions, attending National Autistic Society meetings in York and giving brief presentations on the project at these meetings.
The Research Assistant also implemented all experimental tasks in PsychoPy (stimulus presentation software), attended training in the administration and coding of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), attaining certification in research and clinical reliability in the use of the ADOS. She also collected all data and analysed existing data to date.
The research assistant has subsequently gained a funded PhD place at The University of York, examining the interdependencies between motor cognition, temporal processing and social skills, receiving an ESRC WR DTC scholarship. Co-PI, Dr. Barry Wright, remains a co-supervisor on the PhD project.


ESRC White Rose DTC PhD scholarship (three years from Oct. 2012) to Victoria Brattan, £40,500: a follow-on project examining motor cognition and temporal aspects of action prediction in relation to social skills in healthy individuals and individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Brattan, V.C., Tipples, J., Johnston, P., Wright, B. (in prep). “Temporal Processing and its Relation to Social and Motor Skills. Implications for Autism Spectrum Disorders”.
Effective start/end date1/03/1230/09/12

Research outputs

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