Study: People with autism better at processing information

(CBS News) A new study offers clues for why some people with autism may have a superior ability of processing information.

Complete coverage: Latest Developments in Autism

According to a study published in the March 22 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, individuals with autism are better able to figure out which information is crucial and comprehend it better compared with individuals who do not have autism. While they may be easily distracted by outside influences, people with autism tend to have an enhanced ability at focusing on certain things, the researchers said.

Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show about 1 in 88 U.S. children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While diagnoses can range from milder forms - like Asperger's syndrome - to severe autism, most show characteristics such as social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior to varying degrees.

For the study Dr. Nilli Lavie, a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, and his team of researchers tested 16 adults with autism and 16 adults without autism to find out their "perceptual load capacity." Both groups performed well on information processing tests at the beginning of the experiment, but those with autism often did better when the test became more difficult.

"Our study confirms our hypothesis that people with autism have higher perceptual capacity compared to the typical population," Lavie said in a written statement. "This can only be seen once the task becomes more demanding, with more information to process. In the more challenging task conditions, people with autism are able to perceive significantly more information than the typical adult."

Lavie said the findings might explain why those with mild forms of autism often excel in information technology (IT) and other careers that involve concentration and the ability to understand large amounts of data amassed on a computer.

A study published in the June 2011 issue of  the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders also looked at the prevalence of individuals with ASD in areas of the Netherlands known to be high Information-Technology regions. Tests showed that Eindhoven, a high IT area, had a higher prevalence of children with atuism.

The new study may also provide insight in to why some people with autism have savant syndrome, according to the researchers.

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