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Attention and sensory integration for gait in young adults with autism spectrum disorder.

Gait & Posture 2024 May 4
INTRODUCTION: Altered sensorimotor function is a common feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As a result, spatiotemporal walking patterns are typically affected. Attentional processes relevant for locomotion may be altered in people with ASD. This study assessed the extent to which gait alterations observed under sensory challenging conditions are due to reduced attention-related processes in young adults with ASD.

METHODS: Twenty-one adults with ASD and 21 age- and sex-matched neurotypical participants walked at a self-selected pace on a 10-m walkway under 12 sensory/attention conditions: hard or carpet flooring; well-lit or dim lighting; no attention task, an auditory choice-reaction time information-processing task, or a simple reaction time information-processing task. Gait data were collected with a 12-marker motion capture set and a trunk accelerometer. Spatiotemporal characteristics of gait were derived and compared between the two groups across gait conditions.

RESULTS: Floor/light conditions impacted gait speed, average step length, average stance time, average step width, and step width variability similarly in both groups (p<0.05). The information processing tasks impacted average step length, gait speed, and step length variability (p<0.05). Group differences were found in step length metrics: the ASD group had decreased average step length during the simple reaction time information-processing task and neurotypical participants did not (p=0.039); the ASD group had increased variability on carpet compared to hard floor and the neurotypical group had no change in variability due to floor (p=0.015).

SIGNIFICANCE: These results suggest that attentional set-shifting and somatosensory inputs may play an important role in ASD-related gait alterations. Step length metrics appear to be sensitive to group differences between ASD and neurotypical adults during sensory challenging conditions.

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