Inflexibility may give pupils with autism problems in multitasking

August 15, 2011, University of Strathclyde

Young people with autism may find it difficult to multitask because they stick rigidly to tasks in the order they are given to them, according to research led by an academic at the University of Strathclyde.

The study also found that difficulty with 'prospective memory'- remembering to carry out their intentions- may contribute to the challenges they face.

The researchers presented the pupils with a series of tasks, such as collecting and delivering a book and making a cup of hot chocolate, to be carried out within a time limit of eight minutes. These activities were carried out in a computer-generated .

They found that the pupils did not appear to deviate from the order in which the tasks were listed, although doing so could have saved them time. They also broke several rules for the tasks, notably only being allowed to go up one staircase and down another.

An equal number of pupils with and without (ASD) took part in the study. The researchers will be exploring further the causes of the pupils' problems with , in areas such as planning, memory, and .

Dr Gnanathusharan Rajendran, a lecturer in Psychology at Strathclyde, led the research, which also involved the University of Edinburgh and Liverpool John Moores University. He said: "Our research offers a real insight into the problems young people with autism have with multitasking and points the way to further investigation for possible solutions. By using, for the first time, a virtual environment, we have been able to examine what may lie behind these problems more closely than might be possible in a real-world setting.

"The pupils with autism achieved tasks when they were given to them singly but difficulties emerged when they were asked to interleave the tasks with each other. There was no difference in the time taken by the groups but the with autism completed fewer tasks.

"The exercise could help to deal with these multitasking problems. The tasks or their environment could be changed to see if there is any influence on the outcomes and they could also be a tool for teaching and training."

More information: The research paper, 'Investigating multitasking in high-functioning adolescents with autism spectrum disorders using the Virtual Errands Task,' has been published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, DOI: 10.1007/s10803-010-1151-3

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.