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Complexity and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Exploring Hysteresis in A Grasping Task

1 Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH;
2 Department of Psychiatry, Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Special Issues: Complexity Science for Health and Health Systems

In the current paper, we explored the presence of hysteresis in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Hysteresis is a complexity flag, known to shed light on the dynamics of nonlinear systems. We chose a task that elicits hysteresis in typical development and carried it out with children with ASD. Specifically, children were asked to lift cubes that got increasingly bigger and then smaller (or vice versa). Smaller cubes could be lifted with one hand, whereas bigger cubes required two hands to be lifted. Thus, the change in cube size forced participants to switch their grasping patterns (from one hand to two vs. from two hands to one). The dependent variable was the transition point at which the switch in lifting patterns happened. Results show hysteresis for ASD, to the same degree found for typically developing children (Experiment 1). However, when a social component was added to the task (children had to hand the cubes to the experimenter), a clear difference was found between diagnostic groups (Experiment 2): While typically developing children still demonstrated hysteresis in their grasping, ASD participants no longer did so. It appears that the coordination dynamics of a motor task changed when children with ASD were asked to interact with the experimenter. We discuss the extent to which the analysis of coordination dynamics provides a unique window into understanding ASD.
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