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Restricted and repetitive behaviors in autism spectrum disorders: The relationship of attention and motor deficits

  • Susan M. Ravizza (a1), Marjorie Solomon (a2), Richard B. Ivry (a3) and Cameron S. Carter (a2)


Restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) are hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, it has proven difficult to understand the mechanisms underlying these behaviors. One hypothesis suggests that RRBs are the result of a core deficit in attention. Alternatively, abnormalities of the motor system may constitute the central mechanism underlying RRBs, given motor deficits observed in ASDs. In this experiment, we investigated the etiology of RRBs and the relationship between attention and motor deficits. Movement impairments (a) may be indirectly related to attention deficits, (b) may result from a shared compromised process, or (c) may be independent. Twenty-two adolescents with ASD and 20 typically developing participants performed a spatial attention task. Movement impairments were assessed with a rhythmic tapping task. Attentional orienting and motor control were found to be related and supported the hypothesis that these impairments in ASD arise from a shared process. In contrast, measures of attention switching and motor control were found to be independent. Stereotyped behaviors, as assessed by parental ratings, were related more to the degree of motor impairment than to deficits of attention. These results suggest that both attentional orienting deficits and stereotyped RRBs are related to a compromised motor system.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Susan Ravizza, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824; E-mail:


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