Motor interactions with another person: do individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder plan ahead?
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Interpersonal motor interactions (joint-actions) occur on a daily basis. In joint-action situations, typically developing (TD) individuals consider the end-goal of their partner and adjust their own movements to accommodate the other person. The movement planning processes required for joint-action may, however, be difficult for individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) given documented difficulties in performance on theory of mind (ToM) and motor tasks. The goal of this experiment was to determine if individuals with ASD exhibit end-state comfort behaviors similar to their TD peers in joint-action situations. Participants were asked to either pass, place, or use three common tools: a wooden toy hammer, a stick, or a calculator. These tools were selected because the degree of affordance they offer (i.e., the physical characteristics they posses to prompt proper use) ranges from direct (hammer) to indirect (calculator). Participants were asked to pass the tool to a confederate who intended to place the tool down, or use the tool. Variables of interest included beginning and end-state grip orientations of the participant and confederate (comfortable or uncomfortable) as a function of task goal, and the side to which the tool was placed or passed. Similar to Gonzalez et al. (2011), some individuals with ASD maximized their partner's beginning-state comfort by adopting personally uncomfortable postures. That said, their performance was more variable than their TD peers who consistently passed tools in a manner that facilitated comfortable use by the confederate. Therefore, the movement planning processes used to prepare to pass a tool are not stereotypical across all individuals with ASD. We propose that the novel joint-action task described herein provides the basis for testing an important link between motor performance and more complex social and communication behaviors.
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