EXPRESS: Visual processing and decision-making in autism and dyslexia: Insights from cross-syndrome approaches



For children with autism and dyslexia, navigating the visual world can present unique challenges. Researchers have observed atypical visual processing in both conditions, leading some to believe these differences might be fundamental to their development. However, pinpointing the specifics has been difficult. Traditional research often hasn’t directly compared the two conditions, and the methods used might not be sensitive enough to capture the nuances. This lack of clarity makes it challenging to understand if these visual processing variations are specific to each condition or reflect a broader developmental issue.

A new study published in June 2024 titled “EXPRESS: Visual processing and decision-making in autism and dyslexia: Insights from cross-syndrome approaches” by Manning, Williams, and MacLennan sheds light on this critical area. The researchers employed a cross-syndrome approach, comparing and contrasting the performance of autistic and dyslexic children on the same tasks. This approach allows researchers to identify unique processing patterns in each condition while also revealing any potential commonalities.

Unveiling Convergence and Divergence: Key Findings of the EXPRESS Study


The EXPRESS study revealed a fascinating interplay between similarities and differences in how autistic and dyslexic children process visual information and make decisions. These findings have significant implications for several influential theories in this domain:

  • Weak Central Coherence Theory: This theory proposes that autistic individuals prioritize local details over the bigger picture when interpreting visual information. The EXPRESS study might help us understand if this focus on local details is also observed in dyslexic children compared to typically developing children.
  • Increased Internal Noise Theory: This theory suggests that the autistic brain experiences a higher level of background “noise” that interferes with processing sensory information. The study’s findings could be crucial in determining if dyslexic children experience similar challenges, potentially impacting their ability to filter out irrelevant details and focus on the essential information.
  • Dorsal Stream Vulnerability Theory: The dorsal stream is a brain pathway responsible for processing visual information for spatial awareness and movement. This theory proposes that the dorsal stream might be particularly vulnerable in autism. The EXPRESS study’s results could reveal if dyslexic children also show weaknesses in this area, potentially impacting tasks like judging distances or coordinating movements.

The study importantly acknowledges significant variability within each group of children tested. This highlights the importance of considering individual differences when studying these conditions. Not all autistic or dyslexic children will exhibit the same visual processing patterns.

The Road Ahead: Implications for Future Research


The EXPRESS study offers valuable insights into the complexities of visual processing and decision-making in autism and dyslexia. By adopting a cross-syndrome approach, the researchers were able to identify both commonalities and differences between the two conditions. This knowledge can pave the way for:

  • Investigating the Neural Mechanisms: Delving deeper into the neural mechanisms underlying the observed processing differences is crucial. This could involve using brain imaging techniques to pinpoint the specific brain regions involved in visual processing for each group.
  • Longitudinal Studies: Conducting longitudinal studies that track how visual processing patterns change over time in children with autism and dyslexia can provide valuable insights into developmental trajectories. This could help us understand how these processing differences might impact learning and overall development.
  • Diagnostic and Intervention Tools: Exploring the potential for using visual processing and decision-making tasks as diagnostic tools or outcome measures for interventions is another exciting avenue for future research. This could lead to the development of more targeted and effective interventions tailored to address specific visual processing challenges in these conditions.

By continuing to explore these questions, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of how visual processing difficulties contribute to autism and dyslexia. This knowledge can ultimately lead to the development of more effective treatments and support strategies, empowering children with autism and dyslexia to navigate the visual world with greater confidence and ease.


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