Eye movements reveal a dissociation between memory encoding and retrieval in adults with autism.
A lack of typical age-related improvement from adolescence to adulthood contributes to face recognition deficits in adults with autism on the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). The current studies examine if this atypical developmental trajectory generalizes to other tasks and objects, including parts of the face. The CFMT tests recognition of whole faces, often with a substantial delay. The current studies used the immediate memory (IM) task and the parts-whole face task from the Let's Face It! battery, which examines whole faces, face parts, and cars, without a delay between memorization and test trials. In the IM task, participants memorize a face or car. Immediately after the target disappears, participants identify the target from two similar distractors. In the part-whole task, participants memorize a whole face. Immediately after the face disappears, participants identify the target from a distractor with different eyes or mouth, either as a face part or a whole face. Results indicate that recognition deficits in autism become more robust by adulthood, consistent with previous work, and also become more general, including cars. In the IM task, deficits in autism were specific to faces in childhood, but included cars by adulthood. In the part-whole task, deficits in autism became more robust by adulthood, including both eyes and mouths as parts and in whole faces. Across tasks, the deficit in autism increased between adolescence and adulthood, reflecting a lack of typical improvement, leading to deficits with non-face stimuli and on a task without a memory delay. These results suggest that brain maturation continues to be affected into adulthood in autism, and that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a vulnerable stage for those with autism.