A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute


Visual filtering problems resolve in adolescence

While young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) appear to have difficulty filtering out visual distractions when reading or doing schoolwork, a new study suggests that this is no longer a problem by the time these children reach their early teens. 

In previous research, Shawn Christ and colleagues detected impairments in blocking out visual distractions in young children with ASD but not in older teens or adults. In the current study, the team was able to identify with even greater accuracy the age range in which difficulties in visual filtering are apparent. 

The new study by Christ, Kelly Boland, and colleagues included 80 individuals, 36 of whom had ASD. All participants were between 11 and 20 years of age. Participants were asked to respond as quickly as possible to a visual target on a computer screen while ignoring visual distractions close to the target’s location. 

This time, the researchers report, they saw no evidence of group differences in visual filtering performance. They conclude, “Taken together with previous research, these results suggest that during early adolescence, the previously observed impairment may resolve or compensatory strategies develop, allowing individuals with ASD to perform as well as their neurotypical peers.”

Christ comments, “Here is a cognitive difficulty that is more apparent during one age than another. Now, we can say there is a time period when these children may benefit from an intervention that focuses on accommodating or helping them overcome this difficulty. This could have a significant impact on their academic and social success. They may not need that same intervention later on in life.” 

The researchers say a number of strategies—for example, using a reading window on a page to block out most of the words or creating “quiet rooms”—could help young children with ASD overcome their impairments in visual filtering.


“Brief report: flanker visual filtering ability in older adolescents with autism spectrum disorder,” Kelly M. Boland, Janine P. Stichter, DavidQ. Beversdorf, and Shawn E. Christ, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 49, No. 1, January 2019, 422-28. Address: ShawnE. Crist, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211,[email protected].


“A defining moment: Age-related differences appear in children with autism,” news release, University of Missouri, March 12, 2019.