Saccadic eye movement abnormalities in autism spectrum disorder indicate dysfunctions in cerebellum and brainstem
Motor impairments have been found to be a significant clinical feature associated with autism and Asperger's disorder (AD) in addition to core symptoms of communication and social cognition deficits. Motor deficits in high-functioning autism (HFA) and AD may differentiate these disorders, particularly with respect to the role of the cerebellum in motor functioning. Current neuroimaging and behavioral evidence suggests greater disruption of the cerebellum in HFA than AD. Investigations of ocular motor functioning have previously been used in clinical populations to assess the integrity of the cerebellar networks, through examination of saccade accuracy and the integrity of saccade dynamics. Previous investigations of visually guided saccades in HFA and AD have only assessed basic saccade metrics, such as latency, amplitude, and gain, as well as peak velocity. We used a simple visually guided saccade paradigm to further characterize the profile of visually guided saccade metrics and dynamics in HFA and AD. It was found that children with HFA, but not AD, were more inaccurate across both small (5°) and large (10°) target amplitudes, and final eye position was hypometric at 10°. These findings suggest greater functional disturbance of the cerebellum in HFA than AD, and suggest fundamental difficulties with visual error monitoring in HFA.