Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are very common neurodevelopmental conditions that are characterized by atypical social interaction and communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. In addition, individuals with ASD often perceive their world as being fragmented, not being able to put together or integrate information from multiple senses (i.e., eyes and ears). This ability, called multisensory integration or MSI, is typically automatic and allows us to understand and adaptively interact with our physical surroundings and communicate with others around us. Although MSI has been shown to be less efficient in ASD, it is not known whether this is because individuals with ASD do not integrate socially-laden information properly (i.e., from a voice and a face), or alternatively, because individuals with ASD have difficulty integrating information from different senses, regardless of whether information is social or not (i.e., a integrating a beep and a flash). In addition, it is therefore currently unknown how MSI abilities in ASD differ from that of individuals without ASD at different periods of development.
The goal of the proposed research program is to assess whether disrupted MSI abilities in ASD are specific to complex, socially-laden information, or if they are the result of a more general, complex information processing deficit, disrupting the integration of multisensory information regardless of its content (social or not).
Research findings will have major theoretical implications regarding the origin of socially-related behaviour in autism, and address important applied questions such as whether or not currently accepted sensory-based interventions in ASD should de facto be exclusively geared towards improving behaviours in an exclusively social context (visual-articulatory training).