Visuo-attentional correlates of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children with Down syndrome: A comparative study with children with idiopathic ASD.
BACKGROUND: Children with Down syndrome (DS) are at increased likelihood of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) relative to the general population. To better understand the nature of this comorbidity, we examined the visuo-attentional processes associated with autistic trait expression in children with DS, focusing specifically on attentional disengagement and visual search performance. METHOD: We collected eye-tracking data from children with DS (n = 15) and children with idiopathic ASD (iASD, n = 16) matched according to chronological age. Seven children with DS had a formal clinical diagnosis of ASD (DS+ASD). RESULTS: In children with iASD, but not DS, higher autistic trait levels were associated with decreased temporal facilitation on a gap-overlap task, implying increased visuospatial orienting efficiency. In all cases, higher autistic trait levels were associated with improved visual search performance according to decreased target detection latency. On a visual search task, children with DS+ASD outperformed their peers with DS-ASD, mirroring the phenotypic advantage associated with iASD. We found no evidence of a relationship between attentional disengagement and visual search performance, providing preliminary evidence of a differentiation in terms of underlying visuo-attentional mechanism. CONCLUSION: We illustrate the value of progressing beyond insensitive behavioural measures of phenotypic description to examine, in a more fine-grained way, the attentional features associated with ASD comorbidity in children with DS.