Autistic Scientist Changes How Autistic Perception is Understood

Rob Wipond

Autistic people do not seem to have problems perceiving and distinguishing certain types of action, as has been commonly believed, according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Instead, differences seem to arise at the level of executive functions where they try to pay attention to the action and interpret it.

James Cusack, an autistic scientist from the University of Aberdeen, led the study, helping design new types of tests because he felt that the typical tests being used to assess perception differences in autistic people had too many possible confounders.

“When we take account of these other factors properly, the results showed only a slight impairment and this was more of a generalised deficit which might instead be attributed to factors such as the ability to pay attention, rather than autism specifically,” he stated in a press release on MedicalXpress. The new tests showed that people with autism are often interpreting some sensory inputs differently.

A co-author on the study suggested that the findings could lead to better approaches to helping people with autism. “Many people with autism are disabled by sensory symptoms,” he said. “It is important to know that the brain’s sensory systems are functioning well in autism. This suggests that we need to focus upon the way that the brain modulates the way that sensory input is experienced.”

Major study led by autistic scientist challenges long-held preconceptions about the condition (MedicalXpress, February 20, 2015)

Cusack, James P., Justin H. G. Williams, and Peter Neri. “Action Perception Is Intact in Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The Journal of Neuroscience 35, no. 5 (February 4, 2015): 1849–57. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4133-13.2015. (Abstract)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.


  1. So far nobody can really define what autism really is. It’s also a one size fits all diagnosis while it’s pretty clear that one kid with autism can be completely different from another. Some genetic diseases (Rett syndrome for instance) lead to autism. The problem is when you are trying to find etiology of a disease that is not one disease but a collection of different ones. It’s like trying to find a cure for fever.

    • I agree, I’m pretty certain the “puzzle” behind autism is the same as the rest of the so called “mental illnesses,” it is not a scientifically valid disease.

      I remember driving by a car with one of those autism puzzle stickers on it in 2009 (at that point I’d only been researching into the psycho / pharmaceutical industries for four years and I was still trying to completely escape the crazy making “disempowering system” myself). I remember knowing in my heart, even then, that autism wasn’t a real disease.

      Thankfully, it’s now been confessed that none of the DSM disorders are valid “mental illnesses.” But why are the doctors still researching into them? I know, it’s all about the money.