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See Inside March / April 2010

Extraordinary Perception

We think of people with autism as having a deficit in cognitive processing--but their distractibility could also result from having enhanced perceptual capabilities

Seeing the Bigger Picture
And that is exactly what they found. As the researchers reported online in the journal Psychological Science, although there was no difference among subjects in either reaction time or accuracy on the main task, those with ASD processed the irrelevant letters while solving much more complex problems. Their reaction times indicated that they were still noticing when the extra letter was an N or X, while also finding the target letter in the ring with the same speed and accuracy as the normal controls. Put another way, they weren’t ignoring the main task, nor were they distracted away from it. Instead they were completing their work and moving on, using their untapped capacity.

But here’s the rub. Although this increased distractibility may be a talent rather than a deficit, the psychologists point out, it nonetheless can have detrimental consequences in real-life situations. Just ask Tim Page about his uncanny facility for bus routes.

This article was originally published with the title "We're Only Human: Extraordinary Perception."

(Further Reading)

  • Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s. Tim Page. Doubleday, 2009.
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